Highest ever greenhouse gas emission levels recorded

» By | Published 31 May 2011

In a startling setback to the goal of limiting global temperature increase to 2°C, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Monday that carbon dioxide emissions last year were the highest in history.

An IEA press release noted that after a dip in 2009 caused by the global financial crisis, emissions are estimated to have climbed to a record 30.6 Gigatonnes (Gt), a 5% jump from the previous record year in 2008, when levels reached 29.3 Gt.

The press release also said the IEA estimates that 80% of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today.

“This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2°C,” the press release quoted Dr. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the IEA, as saying.

The release noted that achieving the 2°C target — which politicians agreed to at the UN climate change talks in Cancun in 2010 — means the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be limited to about 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent and that global energy-related emissions in 2020 must not be greater than 32 Gt.

Scientists say global temperature increases have to be held to 2°C if the world is to have a chance at avoiding the worst consequences associated with climate change.

“Our latest estimates are another wake-up call,” said Birol. “The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2°C target is to be attained. Given the shrinking room for manœuvre in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal.”

The release added that 44% of the estimated CO2 emissions in 2010 came from coal, 36% from oil, and 20% from natural gas.

One of the world’s leading alternatives to polluting fuels – wind power – already plays a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions: each wind power-produced kilowatt hour of energy avoids a kWh of energy created by the energy mix of coal, oil and gas – on average 696 g/CO2/kWh. Last year in the EU alone, the 84 GW of wind power avoided the emission of 126 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to taking 30% of EU cars off the road.

But wind power can do more and is ready to be rapidly deployed now in the fight against climate change. Even though the EU is a world leader in carbon reduction and renewable energy targets, it can do more too.

We need to fix legally binding targets for increasing the share of renewable energy to 45% by 2030. You can join this call for action by ‘liking’ this Facebook page.

And we need to strengthen the EU’s 2020 carbon reduction target to 30%, read more here.