Global CO2 Emissions to Hit Record High After Record Low in 2009


Photo: brownpau, Flickr/CC BY

Worldwide carbon emissions sank to their lowest levels since 1999 last year, due to the global economic recession. Emissions dipped 1.3%, which is actually a smaller decline than many experts had anticipated. And alas, the respite is to be short lived: 2010 is already on track to break new world records for carbon emissions. The dip in carbon emissions is mostly attributed to two major factors: People didn't travel by car or airplane as much, and a number of factories were shut down or stopped production due to stunted demand. In the US, for example, emissions dropped a full 7% in 2009, according to the Department of Energy -- part of that was due to some improvement in energy efficiency and clean energy deployment.

But a report from Nature Geoscience shows that worldwide, it was all about the economy. The AP explains:

In 2009, the world spewed nearly 34 billion tons (about 31 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide. That's a drop of 453 million tons from the previous year - what the U.S. emits in about 26 days.

The last time carbon dioxide pollution dropped worldwide was in 1999 and this was the biggest decrease since 1992, according to records by the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Lab. Despite last year's improvement, worldwide carbon emissions have increased by 25 percent since the year 2000. Carbon pollution is probably already rising this year, the study authors said, and likely to set yet a record in 2010.

Developed economies like the US and those in Europe were most impacted by the recession, in terms of carbon output -- meanwhile China, India, and South Korea all increased carbon output in 2009. In fact, China's emissions increased by a massive 8% last year, and India's ballooned by 6.2%.

Now, as more developed economies crawl out of the recession, they'll add to the emissions spouted by the developing world. Barring another recession, we can expect every subsequent year going forward to continue to break worldwide emissions records, as was the trend prior to the market crash of 2008. And, it should be noted, carbon concentration continued to climb, even in 2009, when total emissions faltered -- it now sits at a record 387 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere. Remember, the pre-industrial world enjoyed a climate with a carbon concentration of 280 ppm.

As such, we're seeing some of the warmest years in the temperature record. The 00s were the hottest decade on record -- and 2010 could very well turn out to be the downright hottest year. The hottest average temperature ever recorded globally, and record-breaking emission levels worldwide, and record atmospheric carbon concentration? The same year? What a coincidence!

These two paradoxical years -- a 10 year low in carbon emissions one, and record-breaking output the next -- speak volumes about the nature of the global carbon-intensive economy. It demonstrates, yet again, how tightly carbon emissions are tethered to economic growth in the current development model. And it helps make the case, yet again, that we need to make major strides to bring emission levels down in industrialized economies (especially the US) and urgently rethink the development model -- which is, as of now, standard -- that relies on dirty fuels like coal to power growing economies.

More on Global Carbon Emissions
Global Carbon Market Grew to $136 Billion in 2009
53% of Global Carbon Emissions Come From the Developing World
Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Fell in 2009, But Swift Action Is Still Needed

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