GCP Carbon Budget Finds Global Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions Rose 2% in 2008 Despite Global Financial Crisis; Natural Sinks Not Keeping Pace With Increasing Emissions
Despite the economic effects of the global financial crisis (GFC), carbon dioxide emissions from human activities rose 2% in 2008 to an all-time high of 1.3 tonnes of carbon per capita per year, according to a new paper published by an international team of 31 scientists in Nature Geoscience.
The authors, under the umbrella of the Global Carbon Project, reported a 29% increase in global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel between 2000 and 2008 (the latest year for which figures are available), and by 41% between 2008 and 1990, the reference year of the Kyoto Protocol. The use of coal as a fuel has now surpassed oil and developing countries now emit more greenhouse gases than developed countries, with a quarter of their growth in emissions accounted for by increased trade with the West.
Using a variety of data including direct observations, computer-generated models, and estimates from countries’ energy statistics, the team created a global CO2 budget—the amount of CO2 produced and consumed—from 1959 to 2008. Other main findings of the study include:
CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have increased at an average annual rate of 3.4% between 2000 and 2008, compared with 1% per year in the 1990s.
Emissions from land use change have remained almost constant since 2000, but now account for a significantly smaller proportion of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions (20% in 2000 to 12% in 2008).
The fraction of total CO2 emissions remaining in the atmosphere has likely increased from 40 to 45% since 1959; models suggests this is due to the response of the natural CO2 sinks to climate change and variability.
Emissions from coal are now the dominant fossil fuel emission source, surpassing 40 years of oil emission prevalence.
The global financial crisis had a small but discernible impact on emissions growth in 2008—with the 2% increase compared with an average 3.6% over the previous seven years. On the basis of projected changes in GDP, emissions for 2009 are expected to fall to their 2007 levels, before increasing again in 2010.
Emissions from emerging economies such as China and India have more than doubled since 1990 and developing countries now emit more greenhouse gases than developed countries. A quarter of the growth in CO2 emissions in developing countries can be accounted for by an increase in international trade of goods and services.
According to the GCP’s findings, atmospheric CO2 growth was about four billion metric tonnes of carbon in 2008 and global atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached 385 parts per million—38% above pre-industrial levels.
According to co-author and GCP Executive Director, CSIRO’s Dr. Pep Canadell, the findings indicate that natural carbon sinks, which play an important role in buffering the impact of rising emissions from human activity, have not been able to keep pace with rising CO2 levels.
On average only 45 per cent of each year’s emissions remain in the atmosphere. The remaining 55 per cent is absorbed by land and ocean sinks. However, CO2 sinks have not kept pace with rapidly increasing emissions, as the fraction of emissions remaining in the atmosphere has increased over the past 50 years. This is of concern as it indicates the vulnerability of the sinks to increasing emissions and climate change, making natural sinks less efficient ‘cleaners’ of human carbon pollution.—Dr Canadell
The researchers called for more work to be done to improve our understanding of the land and ocean CO2 sinks, so that global action to control climate change can be independently monitored.