Record rise, despite recession, means 2C target almost out of reach

Economic recession has failed to curb rising emissions, undermining hope of keeping global warming to safe levels. Photograph: Dave Reede / All Canada Photos / Corbis /

By Fiona Harvey, Environment correspondent,
29 May 2011

Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially "dangerous climate change" – is likely to be just "a nice Utopia", according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.

Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.

"I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions," Birol told the Guardian. "It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say."

Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. "These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a 'business as usual' path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path … would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100," he said.

"Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce." …

Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink


  1. Anonymous said...

    It's disappointing that articles like this continue to say things such as "all but out of reach" and "preventing a temperature rise" and "extremely challenging" and so forth.

    These statements are absolute hogwash and meant to continue to calm a gullible public into thinking we've got time yet to fix this.

    Research has already shown that a much higher temperature rise then just 2C is ALREADY promised to us, and that there is absolutely nothing we can do now to stop this level of temperature increases.

    The 2C "target" is already dead and will never be possible for a least a thousand years or more. Many climate feedback loops are now already set in motion, and they are virtually impossible to just suddenly "stop" due to something humans could (or would) do.

    The "prospect is getting bleaker" is the understatement of the 21st century. The prospect of just 2C is virtually IMPOSSIBLE now.  


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