The world's carbon dioxide output hit a new record high last year and is poised to break that record in 2012, according to a new study.

Global CO2 emissions grew 3 percent last year, and scientists with the Global Carbon Project estimate they will grow another 2.6 percent this year, to an estimated 35.6 billion metric tons. They expect the amount of CO2 emitted this year by burning fossil fuels to grow to 58 percent above the 1990 emissions level.

CO2 emissions grew sharply this year in China, by 9.9 percent, and in India, which recorded a 7.5 percent gain. Emissions from the United States fell by 1.8 percent, and from the European Union by 2.8 percent.

But global CO2 emissions are still on track to meet or exceed the most extreme emissions scenarios outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 report, and by the scenarios the panel will use in the report it will release next year, scientists with the Global Carbon Project said.

"We find that current emission trends continue to track scenarios that lead to the highest temperature increases," they wrote in an analysis published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change. "Further delay in global mitigation makes it increasingly difficult to stay below 2 degrees Celsius."

The lead author of the study, Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, offered her own blunt assessment. "I am worried that the risks of dangerous climate change are too high on our current emissions trajectory," she said in a statement. "We need a radical plan."

Many governments believe that holding the average global temperature rise caused by man-made warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels gives the world the best chance to avoid dangerous climate change.

But the new analysis, as well as a report released last week by the United Nations, concludes that the difficulty of meeting that goal is growing along with the world's fossil fuel output.

'Significant' reductions needed
The U.N. Environment Programme's "Emissions Gap 2012" report cautions that even if nations meet their strictest pledges, the world will not be able to cut its output of greenhouse gases in time to prevent runaway global warming (ClimateWire, Nov. 21).

The Global Carbon Project's analysis, which compares the world's actual CO2 output with four generations of emissions scenarios used by the IPCC, concludes that "significant emission reductions are needed by 2020 to keep 2 degrees Celsius as a feasible goal," echoing the recent U.N. assessment.

But that does mean such cuts are impossible, said the international team of scientists.

Some countries have been able to reduce their emissions steadily over a 10-year period, often by a combination of government policies and market reaction to the availability of fossil fuels and other natural resources.

Belgium, France and Sweden put new energy policies in place, increasing efficiency and introducing more nuclear power into their energy mix, in response to the oil crisis of 1973, the new study notes. As a result, CO2 emissions from those countries fell by 4 to 5 percent per year for a decade or more.

And in the United States, increasing use of natural gas in recent years has cut the country's CO2 emissions an estimated 1.4 percent per year since 2005, the study says.

In addition to the analysis published in Nature Climate Change, the scientists working under the Global Carbon Project umbrella published a more detailed technical analysis of the world's CO2 emissions yesterday in the journal Earth System Science Data Discussions.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500