World is way off course for CO2 reduction targets
3 December 2012, by Adele Rackley
New figures released today show we are a long way off achieving the global targets for controlling carbon dioxide (CO2) which could avoid devastating climate change.
The analysis shows significant emission reductions are needed by 2020 to keep within the goal of a two degree rise in temperature.
Artist impression of the human perturbation of the global carbon cycle
According to the Global Carbon Project, co-led by researchers from the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia, global CO2 emissions are set to rise yet again in 2012, reaching a record high of 35.6 billion tonnes.
This rise further opens the gap between the emissions we are producing around the world, and the emission levels we need to achieve to keep global warming below the international target of two degrees.
In fact with this latest rise, global emissions from burning fossil fuel are 58 per cent above 1990 levels, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol: Kyoto set binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, amounting to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the period 2008-2012.
This latest analysis is published today in the journal Nature Climate Change and the data is available through the journal Earth System Science Data Discussions.
'I am worried that the risks of dangerous climate change are too high on our current emissions trajectory. We need a radical plan,' says Tyndall Centre director, Professor Corinne Le Quéré, who led the publication of the data.
In an interview for Planet Earth, Le Quéré said on the current trajectory we could hit a rise of between four and six degrees centigrade by the end of this century – which would have devastating effects on our ability to feed and sustain the planet's population.
Click the play button above to listen now.
Lead author of the analysis, Dr Glen Peters of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway, says previous energy transitions in countries including the UK, have led to emission reductions as high as 5 per cent each year over decade-long periods. The same approach across more countries could kick-start global mitigation, but achieving this would require 'aggressive policy drivers.'
The report shows that the biggest contributors to global emissions in 2011 were China (28 per cent), the United States (16 per cent), the European Union (11 per cent), and India (7 per cent).
Emissions in China and India grew by 9.9 and 7.5 per cent in 2011, while those of the United States and the European Union decreased by 1.8 and 2.8 per cent.
Emissions per person in China of 6.6 tonnes of CO2 were nearly as high as those of the European Union (7.3), but still below the 17.2 tonnes of carbon used in the United States.
Emissions in India were lower at 1.8 tonnes of carbon per person.
Professor Trevor Davies, director and chair of the Fudan Tyndall Centre in Shanghai, said: 'Historically, other countries have been responsible for building up the burden of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But the challenge, today, is one for all countries to face. The innovation we find in China, together with its science and technology expertise, means that the country could grasp a major leadership role in facing up to this global challenge.'
The results lend further urgency to recent reports from the International Energy Agency, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, the European Environment Agency, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, that current emissions pathways are already dangerously high and could lead to serious impacts and high costs on society.