Research highlight

Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after recent financial crisis

Nature Climate Change

December 5, 2011

Preliminary estimates of global CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and cement production show that emissions increased by record amounts in 2010 in the aftermath of the recent global financial crisis (GFC.) A Correspondence online this week in Nature Climate Change states that despite global emissions decreasing during the GFC, they subsequently grew by 5.9% to reach a high of over 9 Pg C. Historically, in times of financial crisis, countries maintain economic output by supporting less-energy-intensive activities, which leads to important changes in the trajectory of global fossil-fuel emissions. Glen Peters and colleagues suggest that, although earlier economic crises were persistent and caused extended reductions in CO2 emissions, the 2008-2009 GFC led to a sharp but short lived decrease in gross domestic product, and global CO2 emissions quickly rebounded in 2010. They suggest that this rapid increase may be due to a swift easing in energy prices and large government investment to promote a speedy return to economic recovery. However, as emissions are now lower in developed countries than the average emissions during 2000-2007, the authors suggest that this sharp increase may also be due to the high growth rate in a few key emerging economies, including China and India. During the GFC there was a large drop in international trade as emerging economies supported domestic activity and strengthened internal growth. This reduction was significant in many trade-dependent economies, however it was offset by increased activity in other parts of the economy. Post GFC this internal stability has continued, external trade has returned to higher levels, and 2009 marked the first time that developing countries had higher consumption-based emissions than developed countries — a trend that the authors suggest is likely to continue. They conclude that reversing the growth in global fossil-fuel and industrial CO2 emissions will require countering the trends in all of the underlying contributors simultaneously.

doi: 10.1038/nclimate1332

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