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Carbon dioxide emissions rebound quickly after global financial crisis

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Dec. 5, 2011 -- The sharp decrease in global carbon dioxide emissions attributed to the worldwide financial crisis in 2009 quickly rebounded in 2010, according to research supported by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In 2010, emissions reached an all-time high of 9.1 billion tons of carbon, compared with 8.6 billion tons in 2009. The downturn was also followed by milestone carbon dioxide emissions from the developing world's emerging economies. In developing countries, consumption-based emissions, or those emissions associated with the consumption of goods and services, increased 6.1 percent over 2009 and 2010.

As a result, 2009 marked the first time that developing countries had higher consumption-based emissions than developed countries.

"Previously, developed countries released more carbon dioxide, but that's no longer true due to emerging economies in developing countries, such as China and India," said Tom Boden of ORNL's CDIAC. "This trend will likely continue in the future based on current developments."

Authors of the paper, "Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis" published in Nature Climate Change, credit three major factors for the rapid carbon dioxide rebound.

"The impact of the 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) on emissions has been short-lived due to strong emissions growth in emerging economies, a return to emission growth in developed economies, and an increase in the fossil fuel intensity of the world economy," said the authors of the paper.

So far, the GFC has not contributed to a long-term decrease in global carbon emissions, as has been the case in the past. For example, the oil crises in 1973 and 1979 caused persistent price shocks and structural changes in energy production and consumption that led to a reduction in the global reliance on oil and an increase in the reliance on natural gas, which resulted in a drop in emissions.

"The GFC was an opportunity to move the global economy away from a high emissions trajectory," the authors say. "Our results provide no indication of this happening and indicate that the GFC has been quite different from previous global crises."

Boden cites two reasons for this uncharacteristic rebound.

"The GFC did not impact major developing countries, such as China and India, like it did the United States and the European nations," Boden said. "Also, some of the negative effects on sectors impacted during the GFC, such as the transportation sector involved in international trade, are over or at least have subsided."

Contact: Emma Macmillan
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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