Record carbon-dioxide emissions ‘a wake-up call’

Carbon-dioxide emissions hit a record high last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Monday, dimming the prospects of limiting the global temperature increase to two degrees Celsius.

“Energy-related carbon-dioxide [CO2] emissions in 2010 were the highest in history, according to the latest estimates,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a statement.

After a dip in 2009 caused by the global financial crisis, emissions are estimated to have climbed to a record 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt), a 5% jump from the previous record year in 2008, when levels reached 29.3 Gt, the IEA said.

Moreover, the IEA 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.

“This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than two degrees Celsius,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist.

Global leaders agreed a target of limiting temperature increase to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) at UN climate change talks in Cancún, Mexico, last year.

For this goal to be achieved, the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be limited to about 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent, only a 5% increase compared with an estimated 430 parts per million in 2000.

The IEA has calculated that in order to achieve this level, based on emissions targets countries have agreed to reach by 2020, that global energy-related emissions in 2020 must not be greater than 32 Gt.

The rise in emissions over the next 10 years therefore must be less than that between 2009 and 2010 if the target is to be achieved, said the IEA.

‘Wake-up call’
“Our latest estimates are another wake-up call,” said Birol. “The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the two degree Celsius target is to be attained.

“Given the shrinking room for manoeuvre 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 Cancún.”

While nations pledged at Cancún to cap global warming to two degrees Celsius, they didn’t agree details on how to achieve that and split badly over the future of the Kyoto Protocol, whose first round of emissions-cutting pledges expires at the end of next year.

“The challenge of improving and maintaining quality of life for people in all countries while limiting CO2 emissions has never been greater,” noted the IEA.

Emerging countries have been concerned emission limits may stunt their growth and development, with only advanced countries able to afford the kind of green technology that may allow them to maintain their living standards while cutting emissions.

The IEA estimated 40% of global emissions came from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) club of advanced countries in 2010, although these countries accounted for 25% of emissions growth compared to 2009.

Non-OECD countries — led by China and India — saw much stronger increases in emissions as their economic growth accelerated, said the IEA.

However, on a per capita basis, OECD countries collectively emitted 10 tonnes, compared with 5.8 tonnes for China, and 1.5 tonnes in India, added the agency, the energy policy arm of the OECD. — AF

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