Carbon dioxide emissions up 5.8 per cent last year

Global emissions of carbon dioxide reached 33 billion tonnes in 2010, and are now 45 per cent higher than in 1990.

Global emissions of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) did a full swing after the recession, growing more than 5 per cent in 2010, according to the report "Long-term trend in global CO2 emissions", published on 21 September. This is the highest increase in the last two decades and only fuels the climate crisis.

Without accounting for the land-use sector, global CO2 emissions reached 33 billion tonnes, a 45-per-cent increase since 1990, driven mostly by a 7.6 per cent increase in coal consumption.

This means the world now uses coal for a third of its energy demand – the highest share since 1970. Use of other fossil fuels soared too, with natural gas consumption increasing by 7 per cent and oil consumption jumping by 3 per cent. (This increase takes place mostly in the developing countries, in order to reach decent living standards.)

The report, which uses data from the Statistical Review of World Energy, shows that the growth of emissions was driven in part by economic growth in China and India, with 10 per cent and 9 per cent increases in 2010, respectively. While India's per capita emissions remain fairly low, China's 6.8 tonnes per head per year already overtake those of large historic and de-facto polluters such as France, Italy and Spain.

This follows at least in part because of moving manufacturing industries into developing countries, the outputs of which are largely used by developed countries.

So, clearly all Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), especially those bound by the existing commitments for emission reductions, need to do their share when they meet in Durban in late November to lay the foundation for a of solution to the problem. Inspiration can also be found in more and more countries – in particular in the developing world – working towards a shift to low carbon economies.

While the upward spiral of emissions in China is concerning from a global point of view, the country managed to double its wind and solar capacity for the sixth year in a row. If the developed countries and other major emitters followed China's lead and achieved similar renewable energy growth rates, along with a push for energy efficiency, the world's prospects of staying below 1.5°C or 2°C would be much better than they are now.

Source: Climate Action Network International; Eco 2, October 2011. The report "Long-term trend in global CO2 emissions", was prepared by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), and can be downloaded from: www.pbl.nl/en.

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