/ 26 November 2010

Carbon emissions reduction reflects nations’ economic slump

Global carbon dioxide emissions dropped 1.3% in 2009 compared with the previous year, largely owing to the effects of the economic crisis and an overall fall in GDP, according to an international team of scientists.

The drop is smaller than the 2.8% fall predicted by many experts for 2009 however, because the reductions in carbon emissions per unit of GDP — a measure of efficiency called the carbon intensity — was smaller than expected in many emerging economies.

The results are part of the annual carbon budget update by the Global Carbon Project (GCP), an international group of climate scientists and analysts that collates emissions data to help policymakers.

The project totalled the carbon emissions caused by the use of fossil fuels in power stations, cement manufacture and changes in land use, such as deforestation.

In spite of the 1.3% overall drop, the 2009 global fossil fuel emissions — 30.8 billion tonnes of CO2 — were the second-highest in human history, just below the all-time high of 2008.

The small overall decrease in global emissions masks some big regional shifts, according to the report published recently in Nature Geoscience.

As the global financial crisis has mainly affected developed nations, this is where emissions dropped most: in the United States by 6.9%, the United Kingdom by 8.6%, Germany by 7%, Japan by 11.8%, Russia by 8.4% and Australia by 0.4%.

In emerging markets, however, there were large increases: China rose by 8%, India by 6.2% and South Korea by 1.4%. The GCP also found that global CO2 emissions associated with deforestation dropped 25% since 2000, mainly because of a reduction in tropical deforestation.

“CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are projected to increase by more than 3% in 2010 if economic growth proceeds as expected, approaching the high growth rates observed from 2000 to 2008,” said Pep Canadell, the executive director of the GCP.

Computer models predict that if emissions continue to rise at the present rate, average temperatures are likely to increase by 4°C by 2100. —