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Carbon pollution up, despite recession

Growth driven mostly by China, study finds

Carbon dioxide emissions, the chief man-made greenhouse gas, come from the burning of commodities such as oil, as seen here at the Grangemouth oil refinery in Longannet, Scotland. Carbon dioxide emissions, the chief man-made greenhouse gas, come from the burning of commodities such as oil, as seen here at the Grangemouth oil refinery in Longannet, Scotland. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
By Seth Borenstein
Associated Press / November 18, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Pollution typically declines during a recession. Not this time.

Despite a global economic slump, worldwide carbon dioxide pollution jumped 2 percent last year, most of the increase coming from China, according to a study published online yesterday.

“The growth in emissions since 2000 is almost entirely driven by the growth in China,’’ said study lead author Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia. “It’s China and India and all the developing countries together.’’

Carbon dioxide emissions, the chief man-made greenhouse gas, come from the burning of coal, oil, natural gas, and also from the production of cement, which is a significant pollution factor in China. Worldwide emissions rose 671 million more tons from 2007 to 2008. Nearly three-quarters of that increase came from China.

The numbers are from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and published in the journal Nature Geoscience. According to the study, the 2008 emissions increase was smaller than normal for this decade. Annual global pollution growth has averaged 3.6 percent. This year, scientists are forecasting a nearly 3 percent reduction, despite China because of the massive economic slowdown in most of the world and in the United States.

The United States is still the biggest per capita major producer of man-made greenhouse gases, spewing about 20 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year. The world average is 5.3 tons and China is at 5.8 tons

Last year, the US emissions fell by 3 percent, a reduction of nearly 192 million tons of carbon dioxide. Overall European Union emissions dropped by 1 percent. The United States is still the second-largest carbon polluter overall, emitting more than the next four largest polluting countries combined: India, Russia, Japan, and Germany. China has been number one, since pushing past the United States in 2006.

The world remains on a dangerous path, despite the recession, scientists said.

“There’s a very clear gap between the path we are on and the path we should be on if the goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees,’’ said Le Quere, who also works for the British Antarctic Survey.

The world has spewed 715.3 trillion tons of industrial carbon dioxide since 1982, which is the same amount civilization produced in all the previous years, said study co-author Gregg Marland of the Oak Ridge National Lab.

Outside scientists said the study was thorough and the results sobering.

“Basically these numbers are screaming out at decision makers that whatever they are doing now is not working,’’ said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver, who wasn’t involved in the study.

The report comes as countries from around the world prepare for a December United Nations conference on reducing carbon emissions. Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen of Denmark, who will host the conference in Copenhagen, said yesterday that President Obama supported his proposal for a sweeping political deal that would include commitments by industrial countries to reduce carbon emissions and to provide funds for less developed countries to fight the effects of global warming.