Research suggests fossil-fuel emissions have risen sharply

Global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by 49 per cent in the last two decades, according to an international team that includes University of East Anglia researchers.

According to a statement, the analysis by the Global Carbon Project shows fossil-fuel emissions increased by 5.9 per cent in 2010 and by 49 per cent since 1990.

On average, fossil-fuel emissions are said to have risen by 3.1 per cent each year between 2000 and 2010, which is three times the rate of increase during the 1990s. They are projected to continue to increase by 3.1 per cent in 2011.

Total emissions — which combine fossil-fuel combustion, cement production, deforestation and other land-use emissions — reached 10 billion tonnes of carbon in 2010 for the first time.

Half of the emissions are said to have remained in the atmosphere, where CO2 concentration reached 389.6 parts per million. The remaining emissions were taken up by the ocean and land reservoirs, in approximately equal proportions.

Rebounding from the global financial crisis of 2008–09, when emissions temporarily decreased, last year’s high growth was caused by emerging and developed economies. Rich countries continued to outsource part of their emissions to emerging economies through international trade.

Contributions to global emissions growth in 2010 were largest from China, the US, India, the Russian Federation and the European Union.

Emissions from the trade of goods and services produced in emerging economies but consumed in Europe and North America increased from 2.5 per cent of the share of rich countries in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2010.

In the UK, fossil-fuel CO2 emissions grew 3.8 per cent in 2010 but were 14 per cent below their 1990 levels. However, emissions from the trade of goods and services grew from five per cent of the emissions produced locally in 1990 to 46 per cent in 2010. Emissions in the UK were 20 per cent above their 1990 levels when emissions from trade are taken into account.

‘Global CO2 emissions since 2000 are tracking the high end of the projections used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which far exceed two degrees warming by 2100,’ said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor at the University of East Anglia. ‘Yet governments have pledged to keep warming below two degrees to avoid the most dangerous aspects of climate change such as widespread water stress and sea level rise, and increases in extreme climatic events.’

Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008–2009 global financial crisis by GP Peters, G Marland, C Le Quéré, T Boden, JG Canadell and MR Raupach is published online by Nature Climate Change.