Rich countries blamed as greenhouse gas emissions hit record

Bali conference is the world's last chance to avoid 'catastrophic' global warming, experts warn

A A A

Rich countries are rapidly increasing the pollution that causes global warming to record levels despite having solemnly undertaken to reduce it, three devastating new official reports reveal. Emissions of greenhouse gases and their accumulation in the atmosphere are higher than they have ever been, and unless policies are urgently reversed "catastrophic" climate change is inevitable, they warn.

The reports from three separate UN organisations form the strongest and most authoritative condemnation of Western climate policies yet.

They are made public as representatives of nearly 200 governments fly into Bali, Indonesia, this weekend for the most crucial negotiations on global warming for years. The talks, which open tomorrow, are to start discussing a successor to the present agreement under the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in five years' time, having failed to measure up to the escalating climate crisis. Experts say it is the world's "last chance" to avoid disaster.

And they follow the harshest warning yet from the congenitally cautious official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its latest report predicted that, if present trends continue, harvests in much of Africa could be halved by 2020, the Amazon rainforest will turn to dry savannah, and the Greenland icecap will completely melt, raising sea levels worldwide by over 30ft.

The first of the new reports, by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the body organising the Bali conference, shows that total emissions of greenhouse gases mainly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide by the world's 40 industrialised nations have risen to "to an all-time high", although they are supposed to be diminishing under the Kyoto Protocol.

Under the 1997 Kyoto treaty, rich nations undertook to cut emissions of the gases by a modest total of about 5 per cent of 1990 levels by 2012. But, 10 years later, the report shows that the Westernised economies that signed up to it have instead increased them by 11 per cent.

Pollution by the former Eastern Bloc countries whose economies collapsed after the fall of the Berlin Wall has been steadily increasing. Besides, the US and Australia the two industrialised countries that rejected the treaty have both vastly increased emissions and they have also risen sharply in key developing countries such as China and India.

The result is spelled out in the second report, by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), which concludes that concentrations of both carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere have reached record levels causing the planet to heat up faster than ever before.

The WMO's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that the amount of carbon dioxide the main greenhouse gas, responsible for about two-thirds of man-made global warming, mainly released by burning fossil fuels jumped by some 2 per cent last year, one of its sharpest-ever rises. The rate of increase has accelerated markedly since the 1990s. Concentrations are now 36 per cent higher than during the 10,000 years leading up to the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Nitrous oxide which also comes from burning fossil fuels, as well as from fertiliser and some industrial processes is also at an all-time high, up 19 per cent from pre-industrial times.

Levels of methane from rubbish tips, cattle and rice paddies as well as fossil fuels fell slightly but increased by 250 per cent since the industrial revolution.

Together, the heating of the Earth by greenhouse gases has grown by 22.7 per cent since 1990.

The third report, the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report, says: "If the next 15 years of emissions follow the linear trend of the past 15, dangerous climate change will become unavoidable.

"On the basis of current trends and present policies, concentrations of carbon dioxide could rise by more than 50 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030".

It goes on: "Political action continues to fall far short of the minimum needed to resolve the climate change problem. The gap between scientific evidence and political response remains large." It adds that most of the rich countries that have signed up to Kyoto "are off track for achieving their commitments".

Both it and the UNFCCC report name names. They show, for example, that the two industrialised countries that have abjured the treaty have both massively increased emissions of greenhouse gases. The United States has swelled them by 16 per cent, and Australia by 25 per cent, over 1990 levels.

But some countries that have undertaken to observe Kyoto, such as Ireland, Canada, Greece, Spain and Portugal, have performed even worse. Each party to the treaty was set its own binding target. But only four countries Germany, France, Sweden and Britain are on track to meet them.

Even some of those that are on course can thank other factors besides conscious policies. Germany owes four-fifths of its reductions to the restructuring of the east of the country's economy following reunification, though it has since introduced radical measures to save energy and to promote renewable sources such as solar power.

Britain, which has taken few such steps, comes in for particular criticism in the UNDP report, exploding ministers' constant claims to be "leading the world" in tackling global warming. The report points out, as frequently argued by The Independent on Sunday, that the UK achieved its cuts by switching away from coal following Mrs Thatcher's defeat of the miners, and that emissions have actually risen since Labour came to power.

Environmentalists hope that the talks that start tomorrow in Bali will usher in something much better, before it is too late. Philip Clapp, head of the Washington-based National Environment Trust, says: "Fifteen years of international negotiations have not yet produced a comprehensive agreement that will get developed countries to begin serious reductions."

He adds: "The framework for such an agreement must come out of the Bali meeting. The scientists are telling us that this is the world's last shot at avoiding the worst consequences of global warming."

In figures: World heading for carbon saturation

If everyone on Earth emitted as much greenhouse gas as North Americans, we would need nine atmospheres to absorb it all safely.

At the present rate the world will, within the next 25 years, emit the entire amount of carbon dioxide that the atmosphere can safely take over the entire 21st century.

Rich countries are responsible for seven out of every 10 tons of carbon dioxide emitted since the industrial revolution.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance Manager

£50000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Back End Web Developer

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'