Intelligent Energy

Hot export of 2010: Carbon emissions

Hot export of 2010: Carbon emissions

Posting in Energy

About 510 million extra tons of emissions were pumped into the atmosphere in 2010, the largest jump since the Industrial Revolution. China might be the largest emitter, but it's had help from rich nations.

An extra 510 million tons of carbon emissions were pumped into the world's atmosphere in 2010, the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution and the largest percentage increase since 2003 when they soared 6 percent. The upshot? The global recession, which helped emissions dip 1.3 percent in 2009, was just a blip; and the United States and Europe have not curbed emissions as much as domestic figures would suggest.

The analysis released Sunday by the Global Carbon Project, which was published in Nature Climate Change, found that global emissions were largest from China, United States, India, the Russian Federation and the European Union. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in 2010 rose to 389.6 parts per million (after accounting for land and ocean carbon sinks), the highest recorded amount in at least the last 800,000 years, according to the researchers of the report.

Emissions as an export

Coal burning, which accounted for 52 percent of the total growth, was a primary cause of the steep jump in fossil fuel and cement emissions. Coal emissions grew largely in emerging economies like China and India. However, the blame for the jump also lies with developed Western nations.

Here's how. At first glance, it appears developed wealthy countries like the United States have made progress in reducing domestically produced emissions over the past two decades. But they've achieved this largely by importing goods made in other countries, most of them emerging economies.

Researchers found emissions from the consumption of goods and services produced in emerging and developed countries, but consumed in developed countries like the United States and the European Union increased from 2.5 percent of the share of developed countries in 1990 to 16 percent in 2010. And the are projected to continue to grow. This partly explains the rise in coal burning emissions since many emerging economies rely on this fossil fuel as a cheap source of energy.

Not all of China's emissions are due to products made there and consumed here. The country's domestically consumed emissions have risen as well, which is shown in the graphic above. Still, it's a significant factor -- nearly one-fifth of China's emissions come from goods demand by consumers in other nations -- and one that has been given little attention.

UPDATE: Christopher Mims, a SmartPlanet contributor, offers a solution on how the United States could help curb emissions over at Grist.org.

Photo: Flickr user senor codo, CC 2.0

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure