Climatology might replace economics as the 'gloomy science'. Projections that the lousy economy might mean a slowdown in fossil fuels were cause for joy among activists, without realizing that people without jobs or food or houses aren't as concerned about abstract things like the future of the planet.

Whether or not global warming is a fashionable media topic in 2010, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the main contributor to man-made global warming, show no sign of lessening and could still reach a new record this year, according to a study that is part of the annual carbon budget update by the Global Carbon Project.

In , the authors found that despite the major financial crisis that hit the world last year, global CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuel in 2009 were only 1.3 per cent below the record 2008 figures, less than half the drop predicted a year ago.   

How is that possible?   The global financial crisis severely affected western economies, leading to large reductions in CO2 emissions. For example, UK emissions were 8.6% lower in 2009 than in 2008. Similar figures apply to USA, Japan, France, Germany, and most other industrialised nations.

But 'emerging' economies like CO2 world leader China, exempt from the proposed Kyoto treaty on emissions, recorded substantial increases in CO2 emissions, as did the other exempt country India.  China had +8 percent and India +6.2 percent.

The poor improvements in carbon intensity were caused by an increased share of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions produced by emerging economies with a relatively high carbon intensity, and an increasing reliance on coal.  The study projects that if economic growth proceeds as expected, global fossil fuel emissions will increase by more than 3% in 2010, approaching the high emissions growth rates observed through 2000 to 2008.  The study also says that global CO2 emissions from deforestation have decreased by over 25% since 2000 compared to the 1990s, mainly because of reduced CO2 emissions from tropical deforestation.

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, lead author of the research, said, "The 2009 drop in CO2 emissions is less than half that anticipated a year ago. This is because the drop in world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was less than anticipated and the carbon intensity of world GDP, which is the amount of CO2 released per unit of GDP, improved by only 0.7 per cent in 2009 – well below its long-term average of 1.7% per year."

"For the first time, forest expansion in temperate latitudes has overcompensated deforestation emissions and caused a small net sink of CO2 outside the tropics", says Professor Corinne Le Quéré, from the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey, and author of the study. "We could be seeing the first signs of net CO2 sequestration in the forest sector outside the tropics."

Citation: P. Friedlingstein, R. A. Houghton, G. Marland, J. Hackler, T. A. Boden, T. J. Conway, J. G. Canadell, M. R. Raupach, P. Ciais, C. Le Quéré, 'Update on CO2 emissions', Nature Geoscience (21 November 2010) doi:10.1038/ngeo1022