Global carbon dioxide emissions from industry rose about 3 percent in a weak global economy this year, a study released today showed, adding fresh urgency to efforts to control planet-warming gases at U.N. climate talks in South Africa.
The study by the Global Carbon Project, an annual report card on mankind's CO2 pollution, says a slowdown in emissions during the 2008-09 global financial crisis was a mere speed bump, and the gain in 2011 followed a 6 percent surge in 2010.
"The global financial crisis was an opportunity to move the global economy away from a high-emissions trajectory. Our results provide no indication of this happening," the authors say in the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Delegates from nearly 200 nations attending major talks in South Africa are struggling to make progress toward tougher steps to curb soaring carbon pollution.
A small number of big developing nations were fuelling the emissions growth, the study said, even though the global financial crisis spawned long-term green stimulus plans by China, South Korea, the United States, and others to attempt to curtail CO2 output.
In the short-term, an improvement in the carbon intensity of economies, a measure of carbon emissions per unit of GDP, has stalled, according to the study, which analyzed data from the U.S. government, United Nations, and BP Statistics.
Global emissions from burning fossil fuels and cement production grew 5.9 percent in 2010, compared with a 1.4 percent drop the year before, the data showed.
In both years, emissions growth has been dominated by emerging economies, with China's emissions jumping 10.4 percent in 2010, India 9.4 percent, Brazil 11.6 percent, and South Korea 9.2 percent.
Emissions in 2010 also grew in some big developed nations in absolute terms, rising 4.1 percent in the United States and 5.8 percent for the Russian Federation. Emissions from China, the world's top CO2 polluter, doubled between 2002 and 2010, the data showed.
Coal still king
Globally, CO2 emissions in 2010 from coal totalled 41 percent, oil 34 percent, with gas and cement production comprising the rest.
The authors expressed concern over the reversal of a long-term trend toward improving the carbon intensity of economies between 1970 and 2000. Improvement in carbon intensity stalled in 2009 and decreased slightly in 2010.
"The return to growth after the (global financial crisis) has only continued the deterioration in the fossil fuel carbon intensity trend since 2000," the study's authors said.
They also pointed to the acceleration of consumption-based emissions of domestic goods and services, but excluding emissions from exports. In 2009 and 2010, there were large drops in consumption-based emissions in developed nations.
In developing countries the reverse occurred and 2009 marked the first time that developing countries had higher consumption-based emissions than developed countries, the authors said.
Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, told Reuters from Canberra, Australia, that economic stimulus packages primed the rapid rebound in CO2 emissions.
"The economic stimulus packages were very effective from an emissions point of view to get back to very quickly those same levels of emissions from production of consumption."
A separate study published last month concluded there was almost no chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius based on huge investments in polluting power stations.
The study, also published in the journal Nature Climate Change, looked at a number of scenarios on cutting emissions and the long-term impacts on the planet.
In the most extreme scenario of immediately halting emissions, a 2 degree Celsius rise is avoided.
Immediate annual cuts of 5 or 3 percent that lead to emissions eventually falling to zero can also avoid a 2 degree Celsius rise. Assuming the more likely scenario of a 3 percent annual reduction, delaying this action by two or three decades drastically changed the picture, the study said.
"The longer we leave it to make emissions fall, the faster they have to fall and there comes a point where they can't fall fast enough," one of the authors, Mike Raupach, a climate scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, told Reuters.