Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Climb as Economy Recovers

EXETER, UK, November 22, 2010 (ENS) – Global emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are likely to reach record levels in 2010, according to research led by the University of Exeter, published today in the journal “Nature Geoscience.” The 2009 drop in emissions due to the global financial crisis will be more than offset by renewed growth in fossil fuel burning in 2010.

The study, which also involved the University of East Anglia, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, CSIRO, and other institutions, is part of the annual carbon budget update by the Global Carbon Project.

Global CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in 2009 were only 1.3 percent below the record 2008 figures, despite the financial crisis that hit the world last year, the scientists calculated. This is less than half the reduction predicted a year ago.

Coal-fired power plant in China’s northeastern Liaoning province. (Photo courtesy China Guodian Corp.)

The global financial crisis affected western economies, leading to large reductions in CO2 emissions. Emissions in the United Kingdom were 8.6 percent lower in 2009 than in 2008. Similar figures apply to the United States, Japan, France, Germany, and most other industrialized nations.

But the economic performance of emerging economies was strong despite the financial crisis, and they recorded substantial increases in CO2 emissions – China’s emissions rose eight percent, for instance, and India’s rose 6.2 percent.

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, lead author of the study, said, “The 2009 drop in CO2 emissions is less than half that anticipated a year ago. This is because the drop in world Gross Domestic Product was less than anticipated.”

“And the carbon intensity of world GDP, which is the amount of CO2 released per unit of GDP, improved by only 0.7 percent in 2009 – well below its long-term average of 1.7 percent per year,” he said.

An increased share of fossil fuel CO2 emissions produced by emerging economies with a relatively high carbon intensity, and an increasing reliance on coal caused the lack of improvements in carbon intensity, the scientists said.

The study projects that if the global economy grows as expected, global fossil fuel emissions will increase by more than three percent in 2010, approaching the high emissions growth rates observed through 2000 to 2008.

“There is some good news, however,” says Dr. Pep Canadell of CSIRO, executive director of the Global Carbon Project and a co-author to the study.

“We found global emissions from deforestation have decreased through the last decade by more than 25 percent compared to the 1990s and account now for about a tenth of the emissions from all human activity.”

American Forests helped plant 50,000 trees in California’s the San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area after a 2002 wildfire destroyed forestlands there. (Photo courtesy American Forests)

This decrease is due to reduced CO2 emissions from tropical deforestation, the study found.

“For the first time, forest expansion in temperate latitudes has overcompensated deforestation emissions and caused a small net sink of CO2 outside the tropics,” says Professor Corinne Le Quere, from the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey, and co-author of the study.

“We could be seeing the first signs of net CO2 sequestration in the forest sector outside the tropics,” she said.

Another co-author of the paper, CSIRO’s Dr. Michael Raupach, said that despite the estimates of carbon emissions having some uncertainties, climate scientists agree that CO2 generated by human activity is the main contributor to human-induced climate change.

“The carbon intensity of world Gross Domestic Product, that is the amount of emissions emitted to produce one dollar of wealth, improved by only 0.7 percent in 2009, and we attribute this to emerging economies that are reliant on coal producing a higher share of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions,” he said.

“Both globally and for emerging economies, the fraction of fossil fuel emissions from coal continued to increase last year,” said Dr. Raupach. “The world GDP is projected to increase by 4.8 percent in 2010 as the global economy recovers.”

Accumulation of atmospheric CO2 is the most accurately measured quantity in the global carbon budget with an uncertainty of about four percent, according to the Global Carbon Project.

The estimated uncertainty in the global annual mean growth rate is 0.07 parts per million over the course of a year. The data is provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research Laboratory.

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