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CO2 emissions rise outpaces worst-case scenario

By Hilary Osborne (the Guardian) - May 24, 2007

Worldwide CO2 emissions rose at a faster rate in 2000-2004 than the worst-case scenario imagined in this year’s UN reports on climate, according to new research.

The rise over the first four years of this century is also greater than in the 1990s – 3.1% a year between 2000-2004, up from an average of 1.1% a year during the 1990s.

This is faster than scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), suggesting even its most alarming predictions of the effects of climate change may not tell the whole story.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists said the accelerating growth rate was largely due to the increasing energy intensity of economic activity, with growing populations and economies also having an impact.
The research noted a reversal of the trend towards greater energy efficiency and lower carbon working seen in the 1990s.

“The trends relating energy to economic growth are definitely headed in the wrong direction,” said Chris Field, one of the authors of the report and director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology.

“Despite the scientific consensus that carbon emissions are affecting the world’s climate, we are not seeing evidence of progress in managing those emissions in either the developed or developing countries. In many parts of the world, we are going backwards.”

The American, British, Australian and French scientists behind the study found that the acceleration of carbon dioxide emissions was greatest in the rapidly expanding economies of developing countries, particularly China.

In 2004, 73% of the growth in global emissions came from developing economies, which comprise 80% of the world’s population. However, when the scientists looked at total emissions for the year, they found developed countries, including the former Soviet Union, contributed about 60%.

These same countries have been responsible for 77% of CO2 emissions since the start of the industrial revolution, the report said.

Dr Field said that in order to manage emissions while growing their economies, countries would have to look for ways to reduce the energy intensity of their industries and the carbon intensity of their energy supplies.

“Solving the first part of the puzzle requires shifting more of the economy toward activities like service industries and information technology, where emissions can be lower, as well as emphasising energy efficiency,” he said.

“Solving the second requires deploying new sources of non-emitting energy like wind, solar, and nuclear power.”

In three papers this year, scientists on the IPCC have outlined the main causes of climate change, laying most of the blame at the door of humans. They warned that failure to tackle emissions could have devastating effects on many areas of the world.

In the first report, published in February, the IPCC warned there would be a 0.2C rise in temperatures every decade even if emissions stayed at 2000 levels.