China and India Nullify Global Reduction in CO2 Emissions in 2009

Despite the continued economic crisis, global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, have remained constant in 2009 as strong increases in CO2 emissions from fast-growing developing countries such as China and India, have completely nullified CO2 emission reductions in the industrialized world.

CO2 emissions from fuel combustion and cement manufacturing by region. Source: PBL. Click to enlarge.

This according to calculations in the report “No growth in total global CO2 emissions in 2009”, published by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). The PBL based its calculations on recent data from a number of sources: data on energy use from oil company British Petroleum (BP); on cement production from the US Geological Survey (USGS); and on the latest version of the Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), which is a joint project of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL).

The PBL calculated that emissions from fossil-fuel combustion (including those from gas flares—the burning of waste gas from oil drilling and other industrial processes, such as the production of cement and ammonia) in the industrial countries have decreased by 7%. In China and India, these emissions increased by 9% and 6%, respectively, despite a doubling of wind and solar energy in China, for the fifth year in a row.

Overall, this has meant that in 2009, CO2 emissions worldwide have remained constant, for the first time since 1992. In earlier projections, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted an emission decrease for 2009 of 2.6%, which would have been the largest decrease in forty years.

For industrialized countries, their reductions help them to meet their international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Last year, their combined emission level was 10% below 1990 levels, and therefore well below the Kyoto target level. Together, the industrialized countries—except for the United States, which has not ratified the protocol—are on course to achieve a combined average decrease in CO2 emissions of 5.2%, between 2008 and 2012, compared with 1990 levels.

However, this decrease is also related to the financial crisis. A large part of production capacity has been suspended, but could be re-employed as soon as the economy improves. Therefore, it is likely that a recovering economy would cause emission levels in industrialized countries to go up. Nevertheless, the economic downturn has meant that these countries can meet their reduction obligations with more ease. Another consequence of this downturn is that some industrialized countries may need to purchase less emission rights from reduction projects in developing countries, which, in turn, means that there will be less funds available for emission reductions in those developing countries.

Although there have been strong increases in emissions in countries such as China and India, their average CO2 emissions per inhabitant, in 2009, were still below those in industrial countries. In India the emissions were 1.4 tonnes per person and in China this was 6 tonnes, compared with 10 tonnes per person in the Netherlands and 17 tonnes in the United States.


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