Greenhouse gases increased 6 per cent during 2010, one of the largest annual increases on record according to the US Department of Energy. In 2010 about 512 million metric tonnes more of carbon was emitted to the atmosphere than in 2009. Total emissions for 2010 were 30.6 Gigatonnes, 5% higher than the previous record year in 2008, according to an International Energy Agency report in June 2011.
The latest figures put global emissions on track with the worst case projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report.
Figure 1: IEA global human CO2 annual emissions from fossil fuels estimates vs. IPCC SRES scenario projections. The IPCC Scenarios are based on observed CO2 emissions until 2000, at which point the projections take effect.
Tom Boden, director of the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center Environmental Sciences Division at the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, described the extent of the increase: "It's big," he said, "Our data go back to 1751, even before the Industrial Revolution. Never before have we seen a 500-million-metric-ton carbon increase in a single year," he told AFP.
More bad news: the International Energy Agency has estimated that 80% of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today. Another reason why new coal fired power stations like the proposed HRL facility in Victoria must be stopped from being built.
“Our latest estimates are another wake-up call,” said Dr Birol from the International Energy Agency. “The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2ºC target is to be attained. Given the shrinking room for manœuvre in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed in Cancun.” he said in a media release on 30 May, 2011.
The major global greenhouse gas emitters are the USA, China and India. But on a per capita basis OECD countries collectively emitted 10 tonnes, compared with 5.8 tonnes for China, and 1.5 tonnes in India, according to the IEA.
Western countries have benefited and raised living standards through building up a climate debt in the atmosphere. About 70 per cent of the Green House Gases currently in the atmosphere have been discharged by industrialised countries since the Industrial Revolution. China and India claim their emissions are improving living standards and in line with global carbon equity.
While China has moved into the role as largest CO2 emitter, eclipsing the USA, China is also committed to reducing its carbon emission intensity by 40–45 per cent by 2020 compared with 2005, and to raising the proportion of renewable energy in total primary energy consumption to 15 per cent. China has now become the world’s largest investor in renewable energy, followed by the United States and Germany.
The USA, the second largest global emitter, and the country with the highest carbon equity debt from past emissions, still lacks a comprehensive policy to reduce carbon emissions.
CO2 has reached 388.5 parts per million in the atmosphere as of August 2011. Visit the Cape Grim Greenhouse Gas Data website run by the CSIRO for the accurate trend over the last 35 years or watch the video below showing the Time history of atmospheric carbon dioxide from 800,000 years before present until January, 2011.
The IPCC in 2007 predicted global temperatures rising of 2.4 to 6.4 Celsius by the end of the century. But with emissions continuing to increase these predictions may underestimate the extent of the temperature rise.
Some of the impacts listed in the IPCC report for global warming of 3–4°C above pre-industrial levels include:
- Hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress
- 30–40% of species at risk of extinction around the globe
- About 30% of global coastal wetlands lost
- Increased damage from floods and storms
- Widespread coral mortality
- Terrestrial biosphere tends toward a net carbon source
- Reduction in cereal productions
- Increased morbility and mortality from heat waves, floods and droughts
We are on track for exceeding these impacts. To avoid serious impacts emission reduction must start this decade. It is a critical decade argues Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber at the 4 Degrees or more? Climate change conference at Melbourne in July 2014.
The only little bit of good news is that the developed countries that did ratify the Kyoto Protocol (The US didn't) have reduced their emissions overall and cut emissions to about 8 percent below 1990 levels. Developed countries now produce about 50 per cent of global greenhouse gases, reduced from 60 per cent in 1990.
Australia was listed as 16th in 2008 for total Fossil Fuel CO2 emissions, but on a per capita basis Australian emissions in 2008 lead the developed world, including the USA, with only a few small countries with higher per capita emissions.
But little action is being taken on the State Level in Australia in reducing emissions. In Victoria, the highest per capita emitters in the developed world's highest per capita-emitting nation, the Bailleau Government has introduced draconian planning regulations to make building new wind farms almost impossible, stalling the wind industry in the state. According to Paddy Manning in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Clean Energy Council estimates $3.6 billion in investment might be lost to the state, as well as making it near impossible to meet the Renewable Energy Target.
The carbon pricing and clean energy legislation passing through Federal Parliament will help in reducing Australia's contribution to global warming as well as assisting Australia's diplomatic efforts at the Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Durban, South Africa from 28 November - 9 December 2011.
Louise Hand, Australia's Climate Change Ambassador said that passage of the legislation may very well be seen as a game changer in a very difficult year. "Because if a country like Australia is able to make this significant economic reform with a very powerful and strong future focus then that offers hope to a number of other countries. It is also an overt sign of Australia's commitment to being part of global action on this issue" she said in a video interview conducted by a UN Climate tracker in Panama on October 7.
- IEA media release, 30 May 2011 - Prospect of limiting the global increase in temperature to 2ºC is getting bleaker
- Associated Press Science writer Seth Borenstein Nov 4, 2011 - Biggest jump ever seen in global warming gases
- Observed CO2 Emissions vs IPCC Scenarios Graph from Skeptical Science, 3 June 2011 - IEA CO2 Emissions Update 2010 - Bad News Caption: Figure 1: IEA global human CO2 annual emissions from fossil fuels estimates vs. IPCC SRES scenario projections. The IPCC Scenarios are based on observed CO2 emissions until 2000, at which point the projections take effect.
- Joe Romm's report on Climate Progress.