Carbon emissions dip in 2009, to jump in 2010

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Global emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide are on track to hit a record in 2010, a leading annual study said on Monday, driven largely by booming economies in China and India and their reliance on coal.

Workers walk through thick haze in front of a rare earth smelting plant next to a vast tailings dam near Xinguang Village, located on the outskirts of the city of Baotou in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region October 31, 2010. REUTERS/David Gray

The Global Carbon Project, a consortium of international research bodies, also said annual emissions dipped 1.3 percent in 2009 from 2008 because of the global financial crisis. But the fall was less than half the decrease estimated a year ago.

“The real surprise was that we were expecting a bigger dip due to the financial crisis in terms of fossil fuel emissions,” said Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project and one of the co-authors of the study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.

The findings come a week before the start of U.N. climate talks in Mexico aimed at trying to find a way for nations to agree on a tougher pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

But Canadell also said new data and reduced loss of tropical rainforests showed that emissions from deforestation had declined and now comprised about 10 percent of mankind’s greenhouse gas pollution. Previous studies have said 12 to 17 percent.

Scientists say rising levels of CO2, the main greenhouse gas, from burning fossil fuels and deforestation is heating up the planet.

Canadell said 2009’s drop would prove to be a blip.

Emissions from fossil fuels were projected to increase by more than 3 per cent in 2010 if economic growth stayed on track, he told Reuters by telephone from Canberra, Australia. This would mark a return to the high growth rates of 2000-2008, he added.

“The implication of this kind of growth rate is that you’re quickly moving into well beyond the 2 degrees Celsius warming target,” he said, referring to a level beyond which scientists say the world risks “dangerous” climate change.


Voracious demand for coal, oil and gas by China, India and Brazil as well as demand for their goods was helping drive the increase.

“Emerging economies are taking a bigger share of the global production of wealth and they do it with more carbon-intense energy systems,” said Canadell, a senior scientist with Australia’s top research body, the CSIRO.

In 2009, declines in fossil fuel emissions were largest in developed nations. For example, emissions from the United States, the world’s second largest carbon polluter, fell 6.9 percent, Britain fell 8.6 percent and Japan fell 11.8 percent.

But emissions from the world’s top carbon polluter China rose 8 percent, while India’s increased 6.2 percent and South Korea 1.4 percent.

Despite the slight dip in emissions in 2009, the study showed concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continued rising, reaching a record of 387 parts per million (ppm). This is compared with levels of about 280 ppm at the start of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago.

Data shows the world has already warmed on average about 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century and scientists say the globe is on track to suffer more powerful storms, higher sea levels and severe droughts and floods that could disrupt food supplies.

The findings also show that in 2009 the global economy had slipped in terms of energy efficiency because of an increased share of fossil fuel CO2 emissions from emerging economies.

The study says the carbon intensity of global gross domestic product improved in 2009 less than half of the long-term average. Carbon intensity refers to fossil fuel emissions per unit of GDP.

“Both globally and for emerging economies, the fraction of fossil fuel emissions from coal increased in 2009, as in 2008,” the study says.

Canadell said better data and forest conservation policies in Brazil and elsewhere were making a difference in curbing emissions from deforestation.

“We found global emissions from deforestation have decreased through the last decade by more than 25 percent compared to the 1990s,” he said.

But emissions were still more than three billion tonnes of CO2 a year or roughly three times the total emissions of the Japanese economy.

Editing by Miral Fahmy