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[BEIJING] The rate by which global carbon dioxide emissions are increasing each year has nearly tripled since 2000 according to new research, which implicates rapid economic growth in developing countries.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week (22 May) the study reveals that carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.1 per cent each year throughout the 1990s.

But between 2000 and 2004, carbon dioxide emissions grew by more than three per cent per year.

The study finds that in 2004, emissions from developing economies made up 73 per cent of the global growth in emissions ― largely due to moving energy-intensive activities from developed to developing countries.

Despite this, developing countries' emissions still made up only 40 per cent of total emissions worldwide.

The authors write that this has implications for global equity and burden-sharing in global responses to climate change, as developing countries still have fewer emissions overall. 

Chris Field, co-author of the study and director of the US-based Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology, says the study shows no evidence of progress in managing emissions in either developed or developing countries, despite scientific consensus that carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for climate change (see Scientists united on human-induced climate change).

"In many parts of the world, we are going backwards," he says.

The study used data on fossil fuel consumption and industrial activities from different regions to identify the most significant contributors to the growth in carbon dioxide emissions.

Suggested reasons are economic growth worldwide, particularly in China and India, and stalled or increasing energy intensity ― the amount of energy required to produce a certain amount of gross domestic product.

Field told SciDev.Net that carbon intensity ― the amount of carbon required to produce that energy ― is also increasing. This means that societies are not removing carbon from of their energy supplies.

Jiang Jinhe, an economist at the Institute of Quantitative and Technical Economics, part of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says the study has highlighted the urgency of improving energy efficiency in developing countries.

But she warns that researchers need to be highly cautious in evaluating the relationship between carbon emissions and energy consumption in developing countries like China, where government control of the energy market is less predictable than that in a more mature market economy.

Link to full paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science [945kB]

Reference: The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi/10.1073/pnas.0700609104 (2007)

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