Driven by China and India and seemingly unaffected by an economic slowdown, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will reach a record high in 2012, according to new figures made public on Sunday.
Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels - mainly the use of coal to generate electricity - will rise to a record 35.6 billion tonnes, a 58% rise above 1990 levels, said a study released by the Global Carbon Project, a partnership of scientists established in 2001 to create a knowledge base about global warming.
The latest warning - in a slew of dire reports since November - comes during climate-change negotiations, currently on in Doha, Qatar, and due to close, inconclusively, on December 7.
The last 13 years appear to have been particularly damaging, "driven mainly at the moment by China, followed by India and other large countries," said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, co-lead author of the study and director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in the UK, in an interview to Hindustan Times.
"Although there has been reduction in emissions in rich countries-in the European Union since 1980 and in the US only more recently since 2005-these reductions are small," said Le Quéré. "Unless very important investments are made in rich countries to move to a low-carbon economy and economic growth in China and India takes a different turn, the trends since 2000 will most likely continue in the future."
"Such high levels of warming are very worrying," said Le Quéré. "The climate is not a toy you play with. If you push it hard enough, it will respond. It has thresholds and feedbacks."
Such responses will be particularly evident in vulnerable countries, such as India, where millions are likely to be affected by extreme weather events, changing agricultural seasons and rising sea levels. The cities that could face major inundation include Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
The latest study, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, comes 13 days after a report released by the World Bank warned that the world was on track to warm up - as early as 2060 - by 4 degrees C above industrial-revolution levels in 1800.
Over the last century, the world has warmed by 0.75 deg C; the threshold is considered to be 2 deg C, the target of climate-change negotiations. Even if the now-impossible target of holding emissions at current levels were to be achieved, global temperatures would continue to rise by 0.25 deg C over a decade, according to a slew of projections.
"It's as if no one is listening to the entire scientific community," Prof Le Quéré was quoted in a statement released by the University of East Anglia.
China was the biggest contributor to global CO2 emissions (28%), followed by the US (16%), the European Union (11%) and India (7%), said the study. Of the four major polluters, only China and India registered emission increases in 2011: 9.9% in China and 7% in India.
With emissions of 17.2 tonnes of CO2 each, Americans continue to be more polluting than anyone else. Chinese emissions per person are now 6.6 tonnes, closing in on the European Union's 7.3 tonnes. At 1.8 tonnes per person, India is significantly lower.
Le Quéré said the country's role in reducing the impact of global warming was distinct from China and the "rich Western world".
"What India can do is to ensure that its development is made on low-carbon technology as much as possible," she said. "That is both for power stations that produce energy, and for housing, transport and appliances that use energy. The characteristics of low-carbon technologies are that they cost more up front, but they cost less to run in the long term."
There is no evidence that India will progress down the path recommended by Le Quéré, who does not believe China or India will "reduce emissions rapidly". The opposite is evident as ownership of vehicles skyrocket and metropolitan cities, led by Delhi, report the worst air-pollution ever recorded.
"The only way to avoid the pessimistic scenarios will be radical transformation in the way the global economy currently functions," said the PwC November 2012 Low Carbon Index, an annual report released by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers. "This year we estimated that the required improvement in global carbon intensity to meet a 2 deg C warming target has risen to 5.1% a year, from now to 2050. We have passed a critical threshold-not once since 1950 has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation in a single year, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years."
Co2 concentration in the atmosphere reached 391.1 parts per million (PPM) in October 2012, compared to 388.92 PPM in October 2011, according to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The upper safety limit is considered to be 350 PPM, but CO2 levels in the atmosphere have stayed above that level since 1988.
Co2 is the chief gas implicated in causing global warming from human activities.