on Wednesday, April 19, 2006 by the Independent / UK
by Steve Connor
The United States emitted more greenhouse gases in
2004 than at any time in history, confirming its status as the world's biggest
polluter. Latest figures on the US contribution to global warming show
that its carbon emissions have risen sharply despite international concerns
over climate change.
The figures, which were
quietly released on Easter Monday, reveal that net greenhouse gas emissions
during 2004 increased by 1.7 per cent on the previous year, equivalent to a
rise of 110 million tons of carbon dioxide.
...US emissions have risen by 15.8 per cent from 1990 to
2004, mainly due to increased consumption of electricity generated by burning
fossil fuel, a rise in energy demands...and a rise in petrol consumption...
This is the biggest annual
increase since 2000 and means that in 2004 - the latest year that full data is
available - the US released the equivalent of nearly
6,300 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Scientists in Britain condemned the increase, saying that
it showed how the US was failing to take a lead in the
international attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions despite being the worst
Professor David Read, the
vice-president of the Royal Society, said that the US and Britain needed to take
urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas levels in order to honour their
commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
"The figures published
this week show not only that the US emissions are not decreasing, but
that they are actually increasing on an annual basis," Professor Read
said. "And while the UK appears to be doing slightly better, its carbon
dioxide emissions have been rising annually for the past three years," he
said. "The US and the UK are the two leading scientific nations
in the world and are home to some of the best climate researchers.
"But in terms of
fulfilling the commitment made by their signature to the UN convention to
stabilise greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, neither country is
demonstrating leadership by reducing their emissions to the levels
required," Professor Read said.
The US accounts for about a quarter of the
total global emissions of man-made carbon dioxide or the other gases such as
methane that can exacerbate the earth's greenhouse effect, which traps sunlight
Under the UN climate change
convention, America is required to publish its net
contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, which takes into account pollution
sources, such as cars and industry, and "sinks", such as forests.
The figures show that the
total US emissions have risen by 15.8 per
cent from 1990 to 2004, mainly due to increased consumption of electricity
generated by burning fossil fuel, a rise in energy demands caused by increased
industrial production and a rise in petrol consumption due to increased travel.
Fossil fuel combustion alone accounted for 94 per cent of the carbon dioxide
emissions produced by the US during 2004, the figures show.
Carbon dioxide levels in
the atmosphere are now a third higher than they were before the Industrial
Revolution began in the 18th century, and probably higher than they have been
for at least 10 million years.
Scientists have suggested
that if the international community is to try to stabilise carbon dioxide
levels at twice pre-industrial levels then countries such as the US and Britain need to reduce emissions by about
60 per cent by the middle of this century.
Professor Read said there
was mounting evidence to suggest that rising temperatures caused by greenhouse
gas emissions were beginning to cause serious climate effects, such as a drop
in annual rainfall in east Africa because of rising water temperatures in the Indian Ocean.
"If emissions continue
to rise, we can expect even more impacts across the world," Professor Read
said. "The developing world will find it difficult to adapt to climate
change and the industrialised countries, which are primarily responsible for
the rise in greenhouse gas levels, should realise that they would also struggle
to adapt to a world in which, for instance, sea levels are several metres
higher," he said.
"The science justifies
action now by all countries to both adapt to climate change and to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions."