World GHG Emissions Hit Record Level

by | May 31, 2011

Greenhouse gas emissions reached their highest point ever last year, making it “extremely challenging” to prevent global temperature rising to dangerous levels, the International Energy Agency said this weekend.

The IEA said that 30.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide were emitted in 2010, up five percent from 2008’s level of 29.3 Gt.

This increase means world leaders will struggle to keep to their goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius, described by many scientists as the threshold to potentially dangerous climate change, IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said. The two degree limit was agreed at UN climate change talks in Cancun last year.

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below two degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

But Birol added that government action could still prevent disaster. “If we have bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding,” he said.

The IEA says that for a two degree increase to be averted, global energy-related emissions in 2020 must not be greater than 32 Gt. This means that over the whole of the next decade, emissions must rise by less than they did between 2009 and 2010.

The agency also estimates than 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are “locked in” – that is, they will come from existing power plants or those currently under construction. This will make it even harder to meet the two degree target, Birol says.

The latest figures buck projections based on the state of the world economy. The recession did cause emissions from energy to fall slightly between 2008 and 2009, from 29.3 Gt to 29 GT, the Guardian reports. The IEA had expected a small rise in 2010 due to economic recovery, but nothing like the increase seen.

About three-quarters of the 2009-2010 emissions rise came from developing countries, although they only accounted for 60 percent of global emissions last year. In terms of fuels, 44 percent of the estimated CO2 emissions in 2010 came from coal, 36 percent from oil, and 20 percent from natural gas.

World leaders will meet in Bonn next week for the latest round of UN climate talks, but the Guardian says that little progress is expected.

Picture credit: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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