New IEA Study: We Broke a Very Unfortunate Record Last Year!

Photo by zoonabar. Some rights reserved.

Citizens of the world concerned with global energy emissions returned from their weekends to some rather grim news this morning, as the International Energy Agency (a global environmental protection agency based in Paris) released a study of last year’s emission trends that indicates that energy-based emissions have reached an all-time high.

Similar stories broke out in 2008, when the same published report showed a record-high 29.3 gigatons of emitted energy, however in 2009 it was reported that emissions fell 6% from the previous year, the lowest emission level since 1995 and a possible positive bi-product of the financial crisis. However as the global economy begins to stabilize, it would seem that the delicate balance of growth v. emissions has again shifted, as the IEA report shows that levels for 2010 are 5% up from 2008, totalling 30.6 gigatons, a new all-time record.

The report goes on to break down this figure, attributing 75% of the growth in emission rates to strong economic growth in developing nations, led by China (responsible for 5.6 gigatons alone) and India (1.5 gigatons). It also shows that coal is unsurprisingly the main offender, owning up to 44% of the emissions on its own, with oil tailing behind at 36% and gas at 20%.

The news is bleak for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that, if the growth between 2009 and 2010 occurs again between 2010 and 2011, the record will have exceeded 32 gigatons of emitted energy, a figure climatologists did not expect us to reach until 2020. In a broader sense, this spike suggests a correlation between economic growth and emission levels so strong that it would take drastic measures to reverse. China’s latest five-year plan calls for a 40-45% reduction in carbon-emissions by 2015, but refuses to compromise economic development to do so. We are reaching a crucial maxim where if we don’t seriously examine the long-term consequences, we will lose our slipping grip on harnessing climate control forever.

Eighteen months ago, the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen was heralded by the press as the most important international sit-down on the subject since before WWII. These talks led to an international agreement in Cancun, Mexico to try and contain any rise in global temperature due to global warming to 2 degrees Celsius beyond the pre-industrial levels, seeing as any more substantial rise in temperature would result in serious, irreversible  environmental damage.

Next week, governments convene in Bonn, Germany for the latest round of UN climate negotiations, leading to a bigger meeting in Durban, South Africa in December. While some remain optimistic, most environmentalists  seem to suggest that these talks will result in very little physical change, and that to reverse the trend, we need to decouple financial growth and emissions and take a more serious look at how to prevent another year like 2010.

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