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The Pacific island of Tuvalu has already seen some inhabitants leave over the rising sea levels caused by climate change.
The Pacific island of Tuvalu has already seen some inhabitants leave over the rising sea levels caused by climate change.
Image: RICHARD VOGEL/AP

IEA estimates make 2010 carbon emissions 'the highest in history'

The surprising increase in emissions – growing at their fastest-ever rate – puts temperature goals almost out of reach.
May 30th 2011, 1:29 PM 408 0

EARTH’S CARBON EMISSIONS for 2010 were the highest they have ever been, according to new international estimates – potentially setting off a chain of global warming that cannot be stopped.

Earth’s emissions of carbon dioxide rose to 30.6 billion tonnes last year, according to unpublished estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA) which are published in today’s Guardian.

That amount is up from 29 billion tonnes last year – despite the global economic downturn and action by the world’s governments, both of which were expected to contribute to a more modest rise than the 1.6 gigatonne increase actually estimated.

The Guardian suggests that the scale of the increase may now make it almost impossible to avoid the 2°C increase in temperatures which scientists believe could be the tipping point for a spiral of continual warming that might never be broken.

“It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say,” the IEA’s chief economist Fatih Birol told the paper.

Other economists have suggested that the current rate of growth in emissions means the average temperatures on Earth could increase by more than 4°C by 2100 – an increase that would cause polar icecaps to melt significantly.

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A melt of that scale would create millions of ‘climate refugees’ who would be forced to abandon their homes amid the rising sea levels. The first such refugees were forced to leave the Pacific island of Tuvalu in 2007.

The level of global carbon emissions had actually fallen by 0.3 gigatonnes between 2008 and 2009, a drop attributed to the economic slowdown. While the 2010 emissions were expected to rise, the scale of the increase is wholly unanticipated.

Read Fiona Harvey’s full report in the Guardian >

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Gavan Reilly

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