Emissions Show Sharp Rise
By Richard Black
29 November, 2006
rise in humanity's emissions of carbon dioxide has accelerated sharply,
according to a new analysis.
The Global Carbon Project says that emissions were rising by less than
1% annually up to the year 2000, but are now rising at 2.5% per year.
It says the acceleration
comes mainly from a rise in charcoal consumption and a lack of new energy
The global research network
released its latest analysis at a scientific meeting in Australia.
Dr Mike Rapauch of the Australian
government's research organisation CSIRO, who co-chairs the Global Carbon
Project, told delegates that 7.9 billion tonnes (gigatonnes, Gt) of
carbon passed into the atmosphere last year. In 2000, the figure was
"From 2000 to 2005,
the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions was more than 2.5% per year,
whereas in the 1990s it was less than 1% per year," he said.
The finding parallels figures
released earlier this month by the World Meteorological Organization
showing that the rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 had accelerated
in the last few years.
The Global Carbon Project
draws its data from a wide range of sources, including measurements
of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and studies on fossil fuel
From that data, researchers
have extracted two trends which they believe explain the sharp upturn
found around the year 2000.
"There has been a change
in the trend regarding fossil fuel intensity, which is basically the
amount of carbon you need to burn for a given unit of wealth,"
explained Corinne Le Quere, a Global Carbon Project member who holds
posts at the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey.
"From about 1970 the
intensity decreased - we became more efficient at using energy - but
we've been getting slightly worse since the year 2000," she told
the BBC News website.
"The other trend is
that as oil becomes more expensive, we're seeing a switch from oil burning
to charcoal which is more polluting in terms of carbon."
The Project does not have
data on precisely where this is happening, but there is anecdotal evidence
of increases in charcoal burning in parts of Asia and Africa.
There have been suggestions
that as temperatures rise, carbon sinks - natural systems which absorb
carbon dioxide - may become less efficient; but Professor Le Quere said
there was no evidence that this is happening systematically.
"The land sink has been
very much affected by recent droughts, especially in the Northern Hemisphere,"
she said, "but the ocean sink looks relatively stable and it doesn't
seem there is a global trend."
How emissions will change
over time is one of the factors considered by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body responsible for collating and
analysing climate data for the global community.
"At these rates, it
certainly sounds like we'll end up towards the high end of the emission
scenarios considered by the IPCC," commented Myles Allen from Oxford
University, one of Britain's leading climate modellers.
The "high end"
of IPCC projections implies a rise in global temperature approaching
5.8C between 1990 and the end of this century.
"We need to think about
radical alternatives to the belt-tightening approach," said Professor
"At the moment, the
assumption is we will solve the problem by controlling demand; but regulating
at the point of use is clearly not working."
At the recent United Nations
climate summit in Nairobi, a number of delegations, including those
of Britain, Australia and the US, pointed out that they had managed
to grow their economies without significant increases in carbon emissions.
But, said Corinne Le Quere,
the latest data showed this approach would not be enough to curb emissions
in the future.
"Improvements that have
been made in the last 30 years appear to be stalling," she said.
"We are going to need a real decrease in emissions."
© BBC MMVI
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