Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions jumped 5.9% last year, according to the Global Carbon Project. Yes, a record amount of CO2--500 million tons more than the year before--was loosed into the atmosphere in 2010. As the New York Times put it, it "was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003."
This, of course, comes right on the heels of lower-than-usual emissions in 2009 (which fell worldwide by 1.4%), which was due to the worldwide economic contraction. A few onlookers ventured murmurs that perhaps the recession would recalibrate the greenhouse gas emissions/economic growth coupling, or at least slow the ever-ascendant global emissions trajectory for a few years.
Alas, it was not to be. With industry again revving back up to pre-recession output, we humanfolk are back to spewing carbon at a breakneck pace all around the world. The record jump, of course, was in part due to global industry leapfrogging the slackened economic growth of 2009 and getting back to business as usual. And business as usual these days is an estimated 3% annual increase in global carbon emissions.
Clearly, this spells trouble. We have not succeeded in slowing the emission of greenhouse gases into earth's atmosphere at all. Europe and Japan have made some laudable efforts to rein in emissions, but without a framework for global cooperation, they register as merely cosmetic. China and India are now among the biggest carbon emitters in the world, and the United States still has been unable and unwilling to tamp down its goliath emissions output.
Though it is unlikely we'll continue to break such dubious records with much regularity going forward--it will be a consistent increase--we should be aware that we're still on track to cause catastrophic levels of warming. Unless, that is, a change is registered in worldwide emissions trajectory. The amount of emissions we're currently generating is placing us squarely into many scientists' 'worst-case' scenarios: Double-digit temperature rises by the end of the century, dangerous sea level rise, record droughts, etc.
In other words, we're well on our way to a much hotter world.