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OP-ED: Carbon Doxide Emissions on the Rise as the Kyoto Era Fades

WASHINGTON, Apr 28 2012 (IPS) - At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the latest on-site measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography reveal that global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations reached 391.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2011, up from 388.56 ppm in 2010 and from 280 ppm from pre-industrial times.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in order to have a 90 percent chance of avoiding dangerous changes in climate, greenhouse gases (GHGs) concentrations need to be stabilised at 450 ppm, which would roughly translate into an average temperature increase of two degrees Celsius.

This means that to stabilise GHG concentrations at 450 ppm, global GHG emissions will need to peak before 2015 and be reduced to 50 percent of their 2000 level by 2050.

Industrialised countries need to reduce their emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020, and 80-95 percent by 2050 relative to 1990 levels, which serves as the reference base year for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Various scientific reports also estimate that developing countries should reduce their CO2 emissions by 15-30 percent by 2020, and 50 percent by 2050 relative to 1990 levels.

In recent years, however, emissions increased in both industrialised and developing economies.

In 2010, member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of industrialised countries, increased their emissions by 3.4 percent, while countries outside the OECD saw an increase of 7.6 percent.

Ten countries constituted around 68 percent of the world’s global emissions. Although China was the world’s largest overall emitter in 2010 (followed by the United States, India, and Russia), an examination of emissions per capita tells a different story.

China ranks only 61st in terms of the CO2 emitted per person. In India – the world’s third largest emitter – emissions per capita rank far below the world average. The United States, in contrast, ranks second overall and 10th in per capita emissions.

Our economies still remain tightly coupled to fossil fuel combustion and carbon dioxide emissions. As the global economy started to recover in 2010, emissions increased massively by 5.8 percent.

More than 70 percent of CO2 emissions result from the burning of fossil fuels for energy use, such as electricity generation, transportation, manufacturing, and construction. In 2009, electricity generation and heating alone accounted for 41 percent of all energy related CO2 emissions.

Over the past decade, some countries have developed strong policy regimes to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. By early 2010, 83 countries had adopted some sort of policy to promote renewable energy power generation, up from an estimated 48 countries in mid-2005.

Recent estimates by Deutsche Bank Climate Advisors, however, have stated that even if we implement all the current mitigation policies, there would still be a gap of 5.8 Gigaton (Gt) to the 450 ppm pathway.

The International Energy Agency has warned that the door to two degrees, which is the internationally recognised limit to avoid catastrophic climate change, is closing. And as the four degree scenario is becoming increasingly likely, countries such as the Philippines are starting to set up funds dedicated to national survival and adaptation to extreme events resulting from climate change.

Despite significant actions at a national level, the future of the international effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions is uncertain.

The Kyoto Protocol is an important achievement because it is the only international instrument that sets legally binding targets, yet it is becoming increasingly symbolic as it now only regulates around 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Global CO2 levels are now 45 percent above the 1990 level. Several Annex I countries – including the United States, which signed but never ratified the Kyoto Protocol – will be unable to meet their original reductions targets.

Since December 2011, Canada, Japan, and Russia, have decided not to take on additional emissions targets within the second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol in the coming decade.

*Xing Fu-Bertaux is a Research Associate with Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy Team.

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