The new figures on global carbon dioxide emissions for 2010 from the US Department of Energy make sobering, not to say chilling, reading.
They show that, although much of the world may be facing a financial, economic and industrial crisis, the remorseless growth of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming continues unchecked.
The headline figure is that world CO2 jumped by its largest ever amount in a single year, from 31.6 billion tons to 33.5 billion tons. However, close scrutiny of the data from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory reveals other patterns that are just as disturbing. The key one is the explosive and seemingly unstoppable growth in emissions from China, which leapt by 9.3 per cent over the year, to 8.15 billion tons of CO2. The Chinese are now producing 24.3 per cent of global carbon emissions and have firmly taken over from the US the role of the world's biggest polluter.
America's still-enormous output of 5.49 billion tons now represents 16 per cent of the world total. This means that, from being behind the United States in carbon pollution until 2007, the Chinese proportion of the total is now 50 per cent greater than that of the US.
The other trend worth noticing is just how fast India, the world's third-biggest emitter, is increasing its carbon pollution. It has reached 2.06 billion tons, which is 6.1 per cent of world emissions. But its increase over the year was 9.4 per cent – the highest rise from any country.
What makes these figures chilling is that none of these nations – not China, nor the US, nor India – has any interest in signing a legally binding treaty to bring CO2 down, in accordance with the Kyoto protocol, which will once again be the principal item on the agenda of the UN climate conference in Durban next month. The role of Britain and the European Union in pressing for such a treaty – never more obviously needed than now – is an increasingly lonely one.
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