By environment reporter Sarah Clarke
ABC News Online, 18 November 2009
The latest audit of global carbon emissions has found they are continuing to rise and Australia still holds the lead with the highest emissions per capita among developed nations.
The audit, by the Global Carbon Project, found carbon dioxide levels from human activities are increasing by about 2 per cent per year, or 1.3 tonnes of carbon per capita.
The good news is that carbon dioxide levels are slightly lower than previous years due to the global financial crisis.
"That's a little bit less than through the previous seven or eight years when they've been increasing at over 3 per cent per year, so there has been a slow-up," said the CSIRO's Dr Michael Raupach - one of 30 scientists contributing to the audit.
"It's partly the beginning of the effect of the global financial crisis. By 2011, emissions will have recovered to something like 3 per cent per year, roughly what they were before the global financial crisis."
Scientists blame an increasing use of coal for the continuing rise in carbon emissions.
Dr Raupach also blames growth from developing countries like China, where exports and the production of manufactured goods are booming.
"That fraction is very likely to continue to increase because growth rates in the developing nations are very high," he said.
"China at the moment has a growth rate for both its economy and emissions of the order of 10 per cent per year.
"With growth rates like that it's pretty much inevitable that there will be a continue in emissions increases coming from developing countries."
Australia in the bad books
But Dr Raupach says Australia does not come out clean either.
The 2008 assessment found the nation's CO2 levels are continuing to rise and among developed nations Australia has the lead on a per capita basis.
"In the basket of developed countries, we compare with the US (its emissions are almost flat at the moment), countries like Canada, with the EU countries, and in almost all of those countries we exceed their emissions rate," he said.
Based on this latest audit, scientists say the planet is continuing to track close to the worst-case scenario, with carbon dioxide emissions estimated to have increased by 41 per cent since 1990 levels.
Professor Matthew England from the University of New South Wales warns if those levels are not stabilised or reduced, then the outlook for the planet is bleak.
"What this means is we're looking towards, say at the end of this century, being at a global average warming of up to 7 degrees Celsius if this goes on for many more decades," he said.
"And that level of climate change is in some sense unthinkable."