IEA reports significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy sources are estimated to have reached record levels in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Emissions are estimated to have climbed to 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt), a five per cent rise from the previous record year in 2008 when levels reached 29.3Gt. In terms of fuels, 44 per cent of the estimated CO2 emissions in 2010 came from coal, 36 per cent from oil and 20 per cent from natural gas.

The IEA has also estimated that 80 per cent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already ‘locked in’, as they will come from operational power plants or those currently under construction.

‘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 2ºC,’ said Dr Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA who oversees the annual World Energy Outlook.

A target of limiting temperature increase to 2°C was agreed by world leaders at the UN climate change talks in Cancun in 2010. For this goal to be achieved, the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be limited to around 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalent — a five per cent increase compared with an estimated 430 parts per million in 2000.

The IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook set out the so-called 450 Scenario, an energy pathway claimed to be consistent with achieving this goal, based on the emissions targets that countries have agreed to reach by 2020. For this pathway to be achieved, global energy-related emissions in 2020 must not be greater than 32Gt. This means that, over the next 10 years, emissions must rise less in total than they did between 2009 and 2010.

‘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 2ºC 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 Cancun.’