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Researchers: Carbon emissions hit record levels in 2011

Carbon emissions hit record levels in 2011, according to a statement from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Researchers expect global carbon dioxide emissions to rise again in 2012, reaching a record high of 35.6 billion tons (according to new figures from the Global Carbon Project). The Global Carbon Project is co-led by researchers from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Researchers at the UEA.

Given the 2.6 percent increase projected for 2012, global emissions from burning fossil fuel are 58 percent above 1990 levels, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol.

Emissions from deforestation and other land-use change contributed 10 percent to the emissions from burning fossil fuels. In addition, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere reached 391 parts per million at the end of last year.

In 2011, the top contributors to global emissions were China (28 percent), the United States (16 percent), the European Union (11 percent), and India (7 percent).

Researchers found that emissions in China and India increased by 9.9 percent and 7.5 percent in 2011, while those of the United States and the European Union decreased by 1.8 and 2.8 percent.

The United States, however, has the highest emissions per person at 17.2 tons of carbon per person. China, on the other hand, has 6.6 tons of CO2 per person.

“These latest figures come amidst climate talks in Doha,” Professor Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor at UEA,” said in a statement. “But with emissions continuing to grow, it’s as if no-one is listening to the entire scientific community.”

Given the latest data, Professor Le Quéré is concerned that the international community will not be able to keep global warming below the international target of two degrees.

“I am worried that the risks of dangerous climate change are too high on our current emissions trajectory. We need a radical plan,” she noted.

Researchers believe that drastic emission reductions are necessary by the end of this decade to maintain two degrees as a feasible goal.

Data suggests that previous energy transitions in countries like France and Sweden have contributed to emission reductions as high as 5 percent each year over multi-year periods.

“Scaling up similar energy transitions across more countries can kick-start global mitigation with low costs,” said lead author Dr Glen Peters, of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, in a statement. “To deepen and sustain these energy transitions in a broad range of countries requires aggressive policy drivers.”

Co-author Dr. Charlie Wilson, of the Tyndall Centre at UEA, noted that public policies and institutions can help make these energy transitions successful.

“Public policies and institutions have a central role to play in supporting the widespread deployment of low carbon and efficient energy-using technologies, and in supporting innovation efforts,” he said.

Researchers contend that without more emphasis on energy transitions, the current emissions pathways could lead to significant impacts on society.

The Global Carbon Project’s findings are detailed in the journal Nature Climate Change and the journal Earth System Science Data Discussions.