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OSLO (Reuters) - Recession drove industrialized nations' greenhouse gas emissions down 5.6 percent in 2009 but analysts said the plunge may be a brief, misleading sign of progress in slowing climate change.
Emissions by about 40 nations fell to the equivalent of 16.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2009 from 17.4 billion in 2008, and were a record 11.6 percent below the benchmark year of 1990, a Reuters compilation showed.
The 2009 data comprises all industrialized nations except Canada, the only one which has not yet submitted 2009 numbers to the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat this month. The official data are used to judge compliance with U.N. treaties.
But experts said the recession-induced fall in 2009, and a likely rebound in 2010, meant governments could not relax in achieving long-term curbs meant to avert more floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
"As economies rebound demand will increase and emissions will likely increase again," said Jennifer Morgan of the Washington-based World Resources Institute. "This is no time for governments to be 'backing off'" from curbing global warming.
"There is a risk of complacency" among governments after the 2009 emissions' fall, said Pep Canadell, head of the Global Carbon Project based at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia.
He cautioned the decline was misleading since it was caused by the financial crisis and recession, and not "by sustainable long-term emission reduction strategies or a switch to non-polluting energies" needed to ensure long-term cuts.
"The fall ... is not long-term. It's not enough," echoed Marlene Moses, U.N. ambassador for the Pacific island state of Nauru. Nauru is set to take over from Grenada as chair of the Alliance of Small Island States in late 2011.
Emissions fell in every industrialized country in 2009. U.S. emissions fell 6.1 percent, European Union emissions were down 7.2 percent and Russia's were down 3.2 percent from 2008.
And the falls generally outstripped the depth of recession.
Rich nations' overall gross domestic product contracted by 3.4 percent in 2009, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Its membership overlaps with industrialized states in U.N. climate treaties.
Canadell noted the global financial crisis coincided with high oil prices, making energy-intensive sectors particularly vulnerable to the downturn.
The Global Carbon Project, which groups research institutes, estimates global carbon dioxide emissions rebounded 3 percent in 2010 after a 1.3 percent fall in 2009. Growth continued in many emerging nations such as China and India.
Some early official data for 2010 shows a rebound.
Emissions under the EU's emissions trading scheme -- covering 11,000 factories and power plants and 40 percent of EU emissions -- rose by 3.5 percent in 2010.
A scenario by the U.N. panel of climate scientists in 2007 said industrialized nations would have to cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avert the worst of climate change.
The United Nations says current pledges fall far short.