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Carbon emissions hit record: energy agency

Posted: May 30, 2011 3:12 PM ET

Last Updated: May 30, 2011 3:12 PM ET

Global carbon dioxide emissions related to energy consumption reached a record high in 2010, according to estimates released Monday by the International Energy Agency.

The Paris-based agency said that after emissions declined in 2009 with the slowdown caused by the global financial crisis, they are believed to have climbed to a highest-ever 30.6 gigatonnes. That would be a five per cent increase from the previous record year in 2008, when levels reached 29.3 gigatonnes.

"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," said Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist in a release.

On May 11, Environment Canada reported Canada's total emissions came in at 690 megatonnes in 2009, the latest year for which it has data. That would be two per cent of the global total for energy-related emissions for 2010, as estimated by the IEA.

The IEA also said 80 per cent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in because they will come from power plants that are already built or under construction.

To achieve the target set by global leaders at the UN climate change conference in Cancun in 2010 of limiting a worldwide temperature increase to 2 C, the IEA said, the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be limited to around 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent.

That would represent only a five per cent increase from an estimated 430 parts per million in 2000.

'Our latest estimates are another wakeup call.'—Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist

Based on the targets agreed to by countries represented at Cancun, by 2020 energy-related emissions must not be greater than 32 gigatonnes, the IEA said.

"This means that over the next 10 years, emissions must rise less in total than they did between 2009 and 2010," it said.

"Our latest estimates are another wakeup 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 manoeuvre in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed in Cancun."

The IEA estimated 44 per cent of 2010 emissions came from burning coal, 36 per cent from oil and 20 per cent from natural gas.

The IEA estimated that 40 per cent of global emissions came from OECD countries in 2010, with these countries accounting for only 25 per cent of emissions growth compared with 2009.

Non-OECD countries — led by China and India — saw much stronger increases in emissions as their economic growth accelerated, it said, but on a per-person basis, OECD countries together emitted 10 tonnes, compared with 5.8 tonnes for China, and 1.5 tonnes in India.

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