Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rose 29 per cent between 2000 and 2008, an international team of researchers says.
The scientists with the Global Carbon Project also found that despite the global economic crisis, carbon emissions increased by two per cent during 2008, to an all-time high of 1.3 tonnes of carbon per person per year.
The economic downturn did have a small affect on the growth of emissions, though. The researchers found that the average growth rate over the previous seven years was 3.6 per cent.
Typically, pollution declines during a recession, but the increased pollution was driven by China's booming economy.
"The growth in emissions since 2000 is almost entirely driven by the growth in China," said the study's lead author, Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.
"It's China and India and all the developing countries together," she said.
The study found that developing countries now emit more greenhouse gases than developed countries.
Nearly three-quarters of the increase from 2007 to 2008 came from China, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
China's emissions are now double what they were in 2001 because of the construction of new coal-fired power plants.
Overall emissions in the European Union fell by one per cent last year, and U.S. emissions fell by three per cent last year, the largest decrease seen. The U.S. was second on the list carbon emitters overall and the largest per capita producer of greenhouse gases among large countries.
Australia, Spain, Italy, Finland, the U.K. and Germany were among the individual countries that saw their emissions drop last year.
Canada saw increases
Canada was among the countries whose emissions increased by more than five million tonnes in 2008.
Besides China, other countries that saw such an increase were India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia, Poland, Mexico and the Netherlands.
The researchers said that despite the recession, the world is still producing more and more carbon dioxide and getting warmer.
"There's a very clear gap between the path we are on and the path we should be on if the goal is to limit global warming to two degrees," said Le Quere, who also works for the British Antarctic Survey.
"Basically these numbers are screaming out at decision makers that whatever they are doing now is not working," said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver, who wasn't involved in the study.
The research, published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, also suggests that the world's carbon sinks are becoming less efficient, possibly in response to climate change.
The fraction of the carbon dioxide that remains in the atmosphere has likely increased from 40 per cent to 45 per cent since 1959, the researchers said.
Le Quéré said that steady rise in the amount of carbon remaining in the atmosphere is alarming. The more carbon dioxide in the air, the warmer it gets, and the warmer it gets, the higher the fraction of carbon that remains in the atmosphere, Le Quéré said.
The study also found that the use of coal as fuel has surpassed oil for the first time in 40 years.
"The only way to control climate change is through a drastic reduction in global CO2 emissions. The Earth's carbon sinks are complex and there are some gaps in our understanding, particularly in our ability to link human-induced CO2 emissions to atmospheric CO2 concentrations on a year-to-year basis," said Le Quéré.
"If we can reduce the uncertainty about the carbon sinks, our data could be used to verify the effectiveness of climate mitigations policies," she said.