Greenhouse gas emissions soared by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, which puts of reach the hopes of reining in global warming to safe levels, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.
The steep increase means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which according to scientists is the threshold for potentially "dangerous climate change" – is likely to be just "a nice Utopia", according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA.
It also shows the most serious global recession in 80 years has had little effect on emissions, contrary to some expectations.
Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere, mainly due to burning of fossil fuel. Carbon dioxide emissions were up 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.
Birol told the Gurdian newspaper that it was the worst news on emissions and he was worried. He added that it was becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees and the prospect is getting bleaker.
According to professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, who authored the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, if the pattern continued, the results would be dire (See: Former WB economist Lord Stern outlines plan to break deadlock on climate change).