Warning on climate emissions

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – the main contributor to global warming – show no sign of falling and may reach record levels in 2010, according to a study involving University of East Anglia scientists.

The authors of a paper published in Nature Geoscience found that despite the major financial crisis that hit the world last year, global CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuel in 2009 were only 1.3 per cent below the record 2008 figures – less than half the drop predicted a year ago.

The study, led by the University of Exeter and involving other institutions around the world, is part of the annual carbon budget update by the Global Carbon Project.

It found the global financial crisis had severely affected western economies, leading to large reductions in CO2 emissions. UK emissions were 8.6pc lower in 2009 than in 2008, and similar figures apply to USA, Japan, France, Germany and most other industrialised nations.

But emerging economies performed strongly despite the financial crisis, recording substantial increases in CO2 emissions. China’s were up by 8pc, and India’s by 6.2pc.

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, lead author of the research, 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 (GDP) 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 0.7pc in 2009 – well below its long-term average of 1.7pc per year.”

The poor improvements in carbon intensity were caused by an increased share of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions produced by emerging economies with an increasing reliance on coal.

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The study projects that if economic growth proceeds as expected, global fossil fuel emissions will increase by more than 3pc in 2010, approaching the high emissions growth rates observed through 2000 to 2008.

The study also found that global CO2 emissions from deforestation have decreased by over 25pc since 2000 compared to the 1990s, mainly because of reduced CO2 emissions from tropical deforestation.

Professor Corinne Le Qu�r�, from the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey, was one of the authors of the study.

“In developing countries they rely more on coal because it is cheaper,” she said. In order to limit global warming to 2C almost all global emissions have to start decreasing somewhere between 2015 and 2020 – and there’s a big difference between going up between two and three per cent a year and decreasing.

“There’s an element of urgency that CO2 is back on the rise. Things have got to happen.”