Underscoring the magnitude of the challenge posed by global warming, new U.S. government data estimates that worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide have gone up 38% since 1992, when the United Nations agreed to a framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The increase in emissions out-paces even the worst-case scenarios published by scientists affiliated with the U.N.
The Kyoto Protocol, which industrialized nations other than the United States have agreed to adhere to, aims to reduce emissions in those countries 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.
Ultimately, scientists have said the world needs to reduce its emissions by 50% or more below 1990 levels by mid-century to avert the worst consequences of global warming.
And while the 38 Kyoto Protocol-constrained nations represented two-thirds of the world's emissions in 1992, they now represent less than half (47%), as developing nations -- primarily China and India -- have industrialized, according to the analysis of the Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In 2007, China overtook the U.S. as the world's top polluter of carbon, followed by Russia and India -- though India is expected to surpass Russia this year or next.
In 2007, the world pumped 8.5 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and making cement, the two largest sources of global emissions. That means the carbon that had been safely locked underground for millions of years was pumped into the atmosphere -- the fundamental shift in balance that is contributing to global warming.
Bottom line: The trends are going in the wrong direction. And fast.
The good news is that this week marks milestones in two regional U.S. efforts to curtail global warming. Today, coal-fired power plants in 10 Northeastern states start trading carbon on the open market under the nation's first active cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide. The goal there is to reduce emissions 10% by 2018. And on Tuesday, seven Western states and four Canadian provinces proposed an economy-wide carbon cap-and-trade regulation that would reduce carbon emissions 15% below 2005 levels by 2020.
It's a start, and there's a long way to go yet.
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