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Home / Environment / Study: Pollution rises despite recession (2:09 p.m. 11/18/09)

Study: Pollution rises despite recession (2:09 p.m. 11/18/09)

Factory chimneys pour out smoke in Shanghai, China. Worldwide carbon dioxide pollution jumped 2 percent last year, most of it from China, new figures show. (AP Photo by Eugene Hoshiko)

Factory chimneys pour out smoke in Shanghai, China. Worldwide carbon dioxide pollution jumped 2 percent last year, most of it from China, new figures show. (AP Photo by Eugene Hoshiko)

By Seth Borenstein
AP Science Writer

Washington — Pollution typically declines during a recession. Not this time.

Despite a global economic slump, worldwide carbon dioxide pollution jumped 2 percent last year, most of the increase coming from China, according to a study published online.

“The growth in emissions since 2000 is almost entirely driven by the growth in China,” said study lead author Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia. “It’s China and India and all the developing countries together.”

Carbon dioxide emissions, the chief man-made greenhouse gas, come from the burning of coal, oil, natural gas, and from the production of cement, which is a significant pollution factor in China. Worldwide emissions rose 671 million tons from 2007 to 2008. Nearly three-quarters of that increase came from China.

The numbers are from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

According to the study, the 2008 emissions increase was smaller than normal for this decade. Annual global pollution growth has averaged 3.6 percent. This year, scientists are forecasting a nearly 3 percent reduction, despite China because of the massive economic slowdown in most of the world.

The U.S. is still the biggest per capita major producer of man-made greenhouse gases, spewing about 20 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year. The world average is 5.3 tons and China is at 5.8 tons
Last year, the U.S. emissions fell 3 percent, a reduction of nearly 192 million tons of carbon dioxide. Overall European Union emissions dropped 1 percent. The U.S. is still the No. 2 carbon polluter overall, emitting more than the next four largest polluting countries combined: India, Russia, Japan and Germany. China has been No. 1 since pushing past the United States in 2006.

The world remains on a dangerous path, despite the recession, scientists said.

“There’s a very clear gap between the path we are on and the path we should be on if the goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees,” said Le Quere, who also works for the British Antarctic Survey.

The world has spewed 715.3 trillion tons of industrial carbon dioxide since 1982, which is the same amount civilization produced in all the previous years, said study co-author Gregg Marland of the Oak Ridge National Lab.

Outside scientists said the study was thorough and the results sobering.

“Basically these numbers are screaming out at decision makers that whatever they are doing now is not working,” said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver, who wasn’t involved in the study.

The report comes as countries from around the world prepare for a December U.N. conference on reducing carbon emissions. Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen of Denmark, who will host the conference in Copenhagen, said Tuesday that President Barack Obama supported his proposal for a sweeping political deal that would include commitments by industrial countries to reduce carbon emissions and to provide money for less developed countries to fight the effects of global warming.

Obama, who was in China, said after a meeting with President Hu Jintao Tuesday that he wanted an all-encompassing agreement in Copenhagen, even if it falls short of a legal treaty. And he said he wants something “that has immediate operational effect.”

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