“Worst year ever,” the Simpson's comic book guy might say about 2010's carbon dioxide emissions.
A record-setting 36.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide were added to the atmosphere in 2010. That's a 45 percent increase in the global annual release of carbon dioxide by humans since 1990, reports the European Commission's Joint Research Centre and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency in the report "Long-term trend in global CO2 emissions."
Although many industrialized nations made cuts in the amount of carbon dioxide pollution they created, the rapid growth of India, China, Brazil and other developing nations resulted in a net increase during the two decades studied in the report.
The good news is that countries which signed on to the Kyoto Protocol seem likely to meet their reduction goal of 5.3 percent from 1990 levels. The European Union-27 and Russia decreased emissions by 7 percent and 28 percent respectively, between 1990 and 2010. Japan's emissions stayed at about the same level.
The United State's annual release of carbon dioxide increased 5 percent between 1990 and 2010.
After the global economy was shaken in 2008, emissions fell. But from 2009 to 2010 carbon dioxide made a serious comeback. Emissions increased 5.8 percent during that period, the fastest ever. Major economies, China (10 percent), India (9 percent), USA (4 percent) and the EU-27 (3 percent) led the pack in increased emissions of carbon dioxide pollution.
The record setting increase in emissions between 2009 and 2010 was really more of a return to normal after the economic recovery, and didn't necessarily represent a massive failure in reduction plans. For example, the report notes that the EU-27's emissions were lower in 2010 (4.4 billion tons) than in 2007 (4.6 billion tons).
On a person-by-person basis, the United States is still the world's number one carbon dioxide polluter, although China now releases more. The USA emits 18.6 tons of carbon dioxide per person, compared to China's 7.5 tons and the EU-27's 8.8 tons.
Despite trends towards renewable energy, hybrid cars and other more efficient technologies, power generation (40 percent) and road transportation (15 percent) account for the lion's share of pollution production, in both the industrialized and the developing world.
The European Commission’s report is based on data from the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research as well as country by country statistics.
Carbon dioxide allows ultraviolet radiation from the sun to pass through the Earth's atmosphere. That radiation then heats the surface, producing infrared radiation. But carbon dioxide traps infrared radiation within Earth's atmosphere, and causes average global temperatures to rise.
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