The International Energy Agency has issued new estimates that show greenhouse gas emissions from global energy generation reached record highs in 2010. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 reached 30.6 Gigatonnes (Gt), a 5% jump from the previous record year in 2008. 2009 saw a decline in emissions due to the global economic recession, though that effect now seems short-lived. The Guardian quotes noted climate scientist Lord Stern of the London School of Economics: “These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path.”
Eighty percent of projected emissions from energy in 2020 come from power plants around the world that are either already in operation or are under construction, indicating that our energy path is virtually locked into place. In 2010, 44% of the estimated CO2 emissions came from coal, 36% from oil and 20% from natural gas.
The report on the increase comes as officials prepare to meet June 6-17 in Bonn, Germany to prepare for the next major international climate conference in Durban at the end of this year. “It is clear that they need to push the world further down the right track to avoid dangerous climate change,” stated Christiana Figueres, the U.N.’s top climate change official, who added, “I won’t hear that this is impossible. Governments must make it possible for society, business and science to get this job done.” At the 2009 Cancun climate talks, leaders agreed to a goal of keeping global temperature rise to two degrees Centigrade. This week the IEA stated that goal could be achieved only if global emissions rose less in the next ten years than they rose between 2009 and 2010.
About three-quarters of the emissions increase comes from developing countries, including China and India. However, before we in developed countries congratulate ourselves, a recent study of carbon footprints show that any decline in developed nations’ emissions are canceled out many times over by imports from developing nations. In effect, we have outsourced our manufacturing, and our carbon emissions, to the developing world.
Perhaps these latest figures will spur action. While dignitaries talk and politicians dither, the planet heats, and we are running out of time to make the changes in our lifestyles and expectations that must happen if we are to prevent more catastrophic climate change.
Photo: Coal fired power plant in Germany © instamatics via iStockphoto