Global carbon emissions return to record highs | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 31.05.2011
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Environment

Global carbon emissions return to record highs

The goal to limit climate change to two degrees of warming is in jeopardy, a new report has found. Due to resurgent economies, energy-related emissions reached record highs last year. The IEA says it's a 'wake-up call.'

A smokestack

Resurgent industrial economies have contributed to the increase

Efforts to contain carbon dioxide emissions took a hit in 2010, as a record amount of greenhouse gases stemming from energy production were dumped into the atmosphere during the year.

Resurgent economies and rapid growth in developing nations like China and India contributed to the peak, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced on Monday in Paris.

Emissions climbed to a record 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt), which is about 5 percent more than the previous record year in 2008, the IEA said.

The development brings to an end a short dip in global emissions brought about by the global economic downturn.

Boiling over

It also spells bad news for international pledges to limit global warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels this century.

The pledge was most recently affirmed at the 2010 climate summit in Cancun.

Scientists fear that surpassing the 2-degree threshold risks leading to runaway climate change. They say the consequences will include more flooding, harsher storms, rising sea levels, species extinction and reduced food security.

Solar cells

The IEA says 80 percent of today's emissions are 'locked in' for 2020

Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA, called the agency's estimate "another wake up call."

"The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2 degrees Celsius target is to be attained," he said in a release.

To make matters worse, 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions projected for 2020 are "locked in" through existing or under-construction fossil fuel power plants.

"Given the shrinking room for maneuver 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," Birol added.

Political action needed

UN climate talks which are scheduled to resume in Bonn next Monday are deadlocked on how to achieve the 2 degrees Celsius target.

Countries with emerging economies argue that capping emissions will stunt their growth, saying only their richer counterparts can afford green technologies.

Meanwhile the Kyoto Protocol - which binds many industrialized nations to reduction targets for emissions - is set to expire in 2012. Key nations have said they do not want to renew it.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the IEA estimate was a strong indicator that political action was necessary.

"The IEA estimates ... are a stark warming to governments to provide strong new progress this year towards global solutions to climate change," she said.

Author: Gerhard Schneibel (afp)
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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