WASHINGTON (AP) — The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped
by the biggest amount on record, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated, a
sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global
The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher
than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years
“The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are
growing,” said John Reilly, co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the
Science and Policy of Global Change.
The world pumped about 564 million more tons (512 million metric tons) of
carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009. That’s an increase of 6
percent. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of
all but three countries — China, the United States and India, the world’s
top producers of greenhouse gases.
It is a “monster” increase that is unheard of, said Gregg Marland, a
professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped
calculate Department of Energy figures in the past.
Extra pollution in China and the U.S. account for more than half the
increase in emissions last year, Marland said.
“It’s a big jump,” said Tom Boden, director of the Energy Department’s
Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Lab. “From
an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over.”
Boden said that in 2010 people were traveling, and manufacturing was back up
worldwide, spurring the use of fossil fuels, the chief contributor of
man-made climate change.
India and China are huge users of coal. Burning coal is the biggest carbon
source worldwide and emissions from that jumped nearly 8 percent in 2010.
“The good news is that these economies are growing rapidly so everyone ought
to be for that, right?” Reilly said Thursday. “Broader economic improvements
in poor countries has been bringing living improvements to people. Doing it
with increasing reliance on coal is imperiling the world.”
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. Boden said the latest figures put global emissions higher than
the worst case projections from the climate panel. Those forecast global
temperatures rising between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the
century with the best estimate at 7.5 degrees.
Even though global warming skeptics have attacked the climate change panel
as being too alarmist, scientists have generally found their predictions too
conservative, Reilly said. He said his university worked on emissions
scenarios, their likelihood, and what would happen. The IPCC’s worst case
scenario was only about in the middle of what MIT calculated are likely
Chris Field of Stanford University, head of one of the IPCC’s working
groups, said the panel’s emissions scenarios are intended to be more
accurate in the long term and are less so in earlier years. He said the
question now among scientists is whether the future is the panel’s worst
case scenario “or something more extreme.”
“Really dismaying,” Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public
policy department at Carnegie Mellon University, said of the new figures.
“We are building up a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren.”
But Reilly and University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver 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 percent below 1990 levels. The U.S. did not ratify the
In 1990, developed countries produced about 60 percent of the world’s
greenhouse gases, now it’s probably less than 50 percent, 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,” Weaver said. “And the problem is
pretty close to running away from us.”