Global CO2 Emissions Reach All-Time High, Rising More Than 5 Percent in 2010 to Close Out Past 20 Years

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Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reached an all-time high in 2010, rising 45% in the past 20 years. Rising rapidly between 1990 and 2010, global atmospheric CO2 levels totaled 33 billion metric tons last year, according to a report published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

Global CO2 emissions fell 1% in 2009, during the “Great Recession,” but rose at an “unprecedented” 5% rate in 2010. That was similar to the drop and greater emissions growth in 1975 and 1976, when the global economy suffered through the first oil crisis, a subsequent stock market crash and began a recovery in 1976, the report authors note.

Emissions Growth Greatest in Rapidly Industrializing Countries

Total CO2 emissions in industrialized nations that ratified the Kyoto Protocol and the US, which didn’t, were some 7.5% less in 2010 than they were in 1990, leaving them on-track to meet the 5.2% reduction targets required by the climate treaty.

Industrialized nations’ share of global CO2 emissions has been dropping. Rapid industrialization in large emerging market economies, such as China, India and Brazil, led to industrialized countries overall contribution to global CO2 emissions dropping to less than half the total amount from two-thirds over the two decade period.

Since 1990, CO2 emissions per capita have increased in China from 2.2 to 6.8 metric tons per capita and decreased in the EU-27 from 9.2 to 8.1 metric tons per capita (in EU-15 from 9.1 to 7.9) and from 19.7 to 16.9 metric tons per capita in the USA, according to the report.

CO2 emissions rose in most of the world’s major economies despite the slow and sputtering economic recovery of the past two-plus years. Emissions increases were greatest in China (10%) and India (9%). They increased four percent in the US and 3% in the 27-member European Union (EU).

Man-Made Emissions

Measuring “non-biogenic,” or man-made CO2 emissions, the agency researchers estimated that man-made emissions totaled 22.7 billion metric tons in 1990 and 31.6 billion metric tons in 2008. A first estimate puts the 2010 total at 33 billion metric tons, an increase of 45% in the past 20 years. That’s the same as were emitted in the prior 20-year period, according to the researchers. The non-biogenic total excludes emissions from biomass burning, such as forest fires, for which attribution of cause is uncertain.

The preliminary estimates of non-biogenic emissions were based on energy consumption data for 2008 to 2010 recently published by BP, estimates based on production of cement, lime, ammonia and steel, and emissions per country from 1970-2008 from version 4.2 of the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), a joint PBL-JRC project.

Image credit: PBL Netherlands

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