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CO2 emissions rebounded to record levels in 2010

CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and industrial activities rebounded to record levels in 2010 following a drop in emissions during 2009.

CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and industrial activities rebounded to record levels in 2010 following a drop in emissions during 2009 according to a paper published on December 4, 2011 in the journal Nature Climate Change by scientists from the Global Carbon Project.

Report says world energy use will increase 53 percent by 2035

CO2 is a greenhouse gas that the majority of climate scientists say is contributing to global warming.

CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and industrial activities grew by 5.9% in 2010 to reach 9.1 gigatons of carbon. The average growth rate in CO2 emissions during 2000 to 2009 was 2.5%. In 2009, CO2 emissions declined by 1.3% due to the global financial crisis. Unlike past disruptive events such as the oil crisis in the 1970s, CO2 emissions in 2010 show no signs of remaining suppressed due to lasting changes in peoples consumptive patterns.

Michael Raupach , a senior research scientist with the Global Carbon Project, explained the observed trends in CO2 emissions in a press release:

The analysis suggests that in times of crisis, countries maintain economic output by supporting less-energy intensive activities. These burst-like dynamics [created by rebounding CO2 emissions] are related to easing of energy prices, government investment to stimulate economic recovery, and the effect of a decade of high economic growth in the developing world.

During 2009 and 2010, increases in CO2 emissions were largely driven by economic growth in developing countries. CO2 emissions from developed countries during 2009 and 2010 were lower than the average emissions observed during 2000 to 2007.

Josep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, commented that:

The [global financial crisis] was an opportunity to move the global economy away from a high emission trajectory. This opportunity has not been realized but developed countries have moved some way closer to their emission reduction commitments as promised in the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord.

Overview of the carbon cycle. Image Credit: Sahmed 1890, Wikimedia Commons.

Deforestation and other land-use changes also contribute to CO2 emissions. According to the Global Carbon Project’s annual report, CO2 emissions from land development reached a total of 0.9 gigatons of carbon in 2010, which brings the total annual amount of CO2 emitted by human activities to 10 gigatons of carbon. Carbon emissions from land development have declined by about 40% since the 1990s likely because of new land use policies and reforestation activities.

Great Dying 252 million years ago coincided with CO2 build-up

Overall, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have now climbed to 390 parts per million, a level that is approximately 40% higher than concentrations at the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1750 (~ 278 parts per million). Current CO2 concentrations are at the highest levels observed during at least the last 800,000 years according to the Global Carbon Project’s annual report.

Image Credit: Gregory Heath, CSIRO

Scientists at the Global Carbon Project estimate that the land and the oceans are able to remove about 56% of the CO2 that is emitted by human activities every year. They are currently evaluating changes in the size and efficiency of natural sinks that will affect the ability of the Earth to sequester carbon.

The overarching goal of the Global Carbon Project is to develop a complete picture of the global carbon cycle, including both its biophysical and human dimensions. Scientists at the Global Carbon Project hope that an improved understanding of the dynamics of the carbon-climate-human system will enable societies to identify points of intervention and windows of opportunity that may exist for better managing the carbon cycle.

In addition to the paper published on December 4, 2011 in the journal Nature Climate Change, the Global Carbon Project has put together a useful set of figures and tables regarding their 2010 annual report that are worth a look and are available here [pdf].

Bottom line: CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and industrial activities rebounded to record levels in 2010 following a drop in emissions during 2009. The total annual amount of CO2 emitted by human activities now amounts to 10 gigatons of carbon. These data were published on December 4, 2011 in the journal Nature Climate Change by scientists from the Global Carbon Project.

Deanna Conners

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