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CO2 Emissions Reached Record High In 2010

May 31, 2011

Even as governments around the world have pushed to limit global warming, record levels of carbon dioxide filled the atmosphere in 2010, according to new figures released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Monday.

“Energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2010 were the highest in history,” the IEA said in a statement on its website. The record global emissions were driven mainly by booming economies that still rely on coal for their energy needs, it added.

CO2 emissions rose by 5.9 percent to 33.6 billion tons in 2010, said Fatih Birol, IEA’s chief economist. He warned that carbon dioxide emissions were coming close to a target set by the 190-nation Cancun climate summit last year to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Emissions saw a slight dip in 2009 because of the global economic downturn, but soared in 2010. “It’s a very strong rebound in CO2 emissions, driven mainly by the non-OECD countries,” Birol told Reuters, adding that three quarters of the growth came from China and India.

“It’s the highest ever growth in history,” he said.

The figures are a “stark warning to governments to make rapid climate progress,” starting with a meeting of government negotiators in Bonn from June 6-17, Christiania Figueres, head of the United Nation’s Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters.

Governments “need to push the world further down the right track to avoid dangerous climate change,” Figueres said in a statement.

According to the IEA, 80 percent of projected greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 from energy sources are “locked in” as they will come from power plants already operating or under construction.

“This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2.0 C (3.6 F),” said Birol.

To achieve this goal, long-term concentration of greenhouse gases must peak at about 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, barely 5 percent more than in 2000, scientists note.

This target will not be reachable if global energy-related emissions in 2020 exceed 35 billion tons, the IEA calculates. The rise in emissions over the next decade must be less than the jump between 2009 and 2010, it cautioned.

“The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emission that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2.0 C (3.6 F) target is to be attained,” Birol warned.

UN Climate talks remain deadlocked on how to achieve the 2.0 Celsius target. Even the Kyoto Protocol, whose first round of emissions-cutting pledges for rich nations expires at the end of 2012, may also be in jeopardy as key nations are not favoring a renewal.

“Every year we don’t have a (climate change) agreement, every year we don’t give a clear signal to pave the way for renewable energies and other clean energy technologies, the room for maneuver to get to the 2020 target shrinks,” said Birol.

There was also much concern that after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March, many countries are opting out of nuclear energy, which emits virtually no CO2, said Birol. “The less nuclear growth means higher CO2 emissions compared to what people thought a couple of months ago,” he added.

The growth in CO2 emission came mainly from coal, natural gas and oil.

The IEA has urged oil producing countries to boost supply to cut fuel costs to protect economic recovery earlier this month and appeared to suggest its members could release emergency stockpiles if OPEC did not act at its next meeting on June 8.

Emerging countries say emission limits will impede their development and argue that only wealthy economies can afford to go green.

The IEA estimated 40 percent of global emissions in 2010 came from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) club of advanced countries. But these only accounted for a quarter of the annual emissions growth.

On a per-capita basis, OECD countries emit on average 11 tons, compared with 6.5 tons for China, a voracious burner of coal, and 1.7 tons in India.

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