Friday, November 4, 2011

Greenhouse emissions exceed worst case scenario

Seth Borenstein 
The Age, November 5, 2011 

WASHINGTON: The global output of carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record, the US Department of Energy has calculated, a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The new figures for last year mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst-case scenario outlined by climate experts four years ago.

''The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing,'' the co-director of the joint program on the science and policy of global change at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), John Reilly, said.

The world pumped about 512 million tonnes more of carbon into the air last year than it did in 2009, an increase of 6 per cent. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries - China, the US and India, the world's top producers of greenhouse gases.

Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University who has helped calculate Department of Energy figures in the past, said the ''monster'' increase was unheard of. Extra pollution in China and the US accounted for more than half the increase in emissions last year, Dr Marland said.

''It's a big jump,'' said the director of the Energy Department's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tom Boden. ''From an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over.''

India and China are huge users of coal. Burning coal is the biggest carbon source worldwide, and emissions from it jumped nearly 8 per cent last year.

In 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its last large report on global warming, it used different scenarios for carbon dioxide pollution and said the rate of warming would be based on the rate of pollution.

Mr Boden said the latest figures put global emissions higher than the worst-case projections from the climate panel.

Even though global warming sceptics have attacked the climate panel as being too alarmist, scientists have generally found their predictions too conservative, Dr Reilly said.

He said his university worked on emissions scenarios, their likelihood and what would happen. The climate panel's worst-case scenario was about in the middle of what MIT calculated were likely scenarios.

Chris Field, of Stanford University, head of one of the panels working groups, said its emissions scenarios were intended to be more accurate in the long term and were less so in earlier years. The question now among scientists was whether the future was the panel's worst-case scenario ''or something more extreme'', he said.

But Dr Reilly and Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria, in Canada, found something good in recent emissions figures. The developed countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas limiting treaty have reduced their emissions overall since then and have achieved their goals of cutting emissions to about 8 per cent below 1990 levels.

In 1990, developed countries produced about 60 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases. Now it is probably less than 50 per cent, Dr Reilly said.

''We really need to get the developing world because if we don't, the problem is going to be running away from us,'' Dr Weaver said. ''And the problem is pretty close from running away from us.''
Associated Press

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