Global Carbon Emissions Increased Despite Recession


Despite an economic crisis dubbed the “great recession,” carbon emissions grew last year by two percent, to a total of 8.7 billions of carbon. Last year, every person in the world produced an average of 1.3 tons of carbon, according to a report by the Global Carbon Project. During 2000 to 2008, the growth rate of atmospheric carbon increased 1.9 parts per million (ppm) a year, up from 1.3 ppm during 1970 to 1979.

This decade, emissions grew at an average rate of 3.6 percent a year, up from one percent a year in the 1990s. Carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production in 2008 were 41 percent higher than 1990. Since 2000, the combined emissions from fossil fuels and land use increased by over three percent a year, up from 1.9 percent from 1959 to 1999. The growth of carbon emissions, according to the report, is driven by population, per capita GDP, and the carbon intensity of GDP.

Atmospheric carbon levels average 385 ppm, a 38 percent increase from preindustrial levels, the highest carbon concentration “in at least the last two million years.” A 2008 report by leading scientists titled Target Atmospheric Carbon stated that carbon must be reduced from 385 ppm to 350 ppm in order to “preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.”

Carbon emissions from energy decreased by 2.8 percent in 2008, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). The high prices of gasoline and diesel prices in 2008 contributed to the decrease. Even though gasoline and diesel prices lowered toward the end of 2008, consumer demand decreased. Total energy consumption decreased by 2.2 percent in 2008. The Global Carbon Project report says that the world’s energy demand is expected to increase by 50 percent by 2030, and 80 percent will be from fossil fuels “unless major changes are implemented rapidly.”

“Reduction of carbon emissions is a very urgent task,” said study coauthor Taro Takahashi, a geochemist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Global population is increasing, and so is the standard of living for the developing world. We need to conserve energy by building more efficient cars and power plants. We should also develop technology to capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it away permanently.”

“The fraction of emissions remaining in the atmosphere has increased over the past 50 years,” said coauthor Pep Canadell, head of the Global Carbon Project and a climate scientist at Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by