Global carbon dioxide emissions are estimated to fall nearly three percent in 2009, due partly to the worldwide financial crisis. After years of strong growth, the world may finally see a reduction in CO2 emissions, ironically not attributable to concerted efforts on the part of environmentalists, but to the financial crisis which has gripped most countries of the world.
A leading study of annual carbon emissions, conducted by the the Global Carbon Project, examines CO2 emissions from human activities, as well as trends in the ability of ocean and land ‘sinks,’ such as forests, to absorb planet-warming CO2 from the atmosphere.
Besides its own research, data from other scientific studies, government agencies and research bodies around the world, are used in reporting on the Project’s findings on CO2 emissions.
Carbon emissions from fossil fuels have increased significantly since 1990. These emissions increased by two percent in 2008 from 2007, by 29% over 2000 levels and were 41% above 1990 emissions. Emissions continued to follow the average of the most carbon-intensive scenarios, as projected by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Recent growth in CO2 emissions parallels a shift in the largest fossil fuel emission source, from oil to coal. There was a decrease in the contribution of oil to carbon emissions, from 41% (1990-2000) to 36% (2008). For the same periods, coal contributed 37% and 40%, respectively.
A rapid increase in international trade is cited as one of the reasons for the growth of fossil fuel emissions, according to a Volkswagen Association. The shift to services from manufacturing in rich countries is considered to be a major driver of fossil fuel emission growth in developing nations.
For example, the report notes that 30% of the growth in emissions in China between 1990 and 2002 can be attributed to the export of Chinese products to other countries.
The significance of international trade is illustrated by the fact that it has been responsible for about a quarter of the growth in fossil fuel emissions from developing countries since 2000.
Greenhouse gases occur naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere in addition to being emitted through human activities. This natural “carbon cycle” includes carbon dioxide used in plants during photosynthesis and the exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the oceans. There are three primary natural processes involving the release and removal of CO2 into and out of the atmosphere. They are: