Global carbon dioxide emissions are set to fall an estimated 2.8 % this year because of the financial crisis, after having risen two percent in 2008, a leading annual report on the globe’s “carbon budget” says.
The Global Carbon Project report, released just weeks before a major UN climate conference in Copenhagen, shows emissions from developing nations continuing to soar, driven in large part by consumer demand in rich countries.
Developing nations are now responsible for 55 % of mankind’s total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, said Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project.
And China is a key driver of rising emissions says the report involving 31 authors and published in Nature Geoscience.
In 2005, nearly a third of China’s emissions came from the production of exports, up from 16 percent in 1990, it says, with big-spending rich nations effectively exporting emissions to poorer nations to meet demand for TVs, cars and other goods.
The Global Carbon Project draws on the work and data from government agencies and research bodies around the world. It assesses CO2 emissions from human activities, such as burning coal and oil, and deforestation as well as how much planet-warming CO2 is taken up by nature.
The report says fossil fuel CO2 emissions rose 2% in 2008, more slowly than 2000-2007, when they increased 3.5% per year. Between 2000 and 2008, global fossil fuel emissions increased by 29%.
The findings closely match estimates by the International Energy Agency, which said in September global CO2 emissions would drop about 2.6% this year.
“In 2009, it is likely that the global financial crisis will cause global emissions to actually fall by a couple of percent,” said Michael Raupach, co-author of the report and co-chair of the Global Carbon Project.
But the dip could be very short-lived, he said, given the strong link between CO2 emissions and economic activity.
“If the recovery follows current predictions, the effect of the crisis will be as if all burning of fossil fuels had been stopped for a period of just 6 weeks,” he told reporters.
Bickering over cuts
The report comes as nations struggle to reach a broader UN deal to fight climate change, with bickering over the size of emissions cuts, financing for poor countries and transfer of clean-energy technology likely to delay a deal until next year.
Human activities pump more than 30 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, some of which is taken up by trees and grasslands and some by oceans so-called natural sinks.
“In the past 50 years, the fraction of CO2 emissions that remains in the atmosphere each year has likely increased, from about 40 percent to 45 percent,” says the report.
This has crucial implications for the rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere.
The UN climate panel says the world has already warmed about 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century and needs to prevent warming of two degrees or more to avoid catastrophic climate change, such as rapidly rising seas and more intense droughts, floods and storms.
“As we increase the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide about a hundred times faster than any time in the past 800 000 years, we outstrip the ability of natural systems to respond,” Will Howard, an oceanographer from the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre and the University of Tasmania, told reporters.
Global per-capita CO2 emissions would need to fall to about 1.1 tonnes in 2050, from nearly five tonnes now, said the report’s lead author, Corinne Le Quere, of the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.
Per-capita US emissions are about 20 tonnes versus less than two tonnes for India.
“The trends that we are on are very different from the trends that we need to be on to limit global climate change to 2 degrees Celsius,” she told reporters in London.