Stabilisation of emissions

The target for short-term action proposed for developed countries by the Climate Convention was that, by the year 2000, greenhouse gas emissions should be brought back to no more than their 1990 levels. In the run-up to the Rio conference, before the Climate Convention was formulated, many developed countries had already announced their intention to meet such a target at least for carbon dioxide. They would do this mainly through energy-saving measures, through switching to fuels such as natural gas, which for the same energy production generates 40% less carbon dioxide than coal and 25% less than oil. In addition those countries with traditional heavy industries (e.g. the iron and steel industry) were experiencing large changes which significantly reduce fossil fuel use. More detail of these energy-saving measures are given in the next chapter, which is devoted to a discussion of future energy needs and production.

Despite the Climate Convention target, by the year 2000, compared with 1990, global emissions from fossil fuel burning had risen by about 11%. There was great variation between the emissions from different countries. In the USA they rose by 17%, in the rest of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) they rose on average by 5%. Emissions in countries in the former Soviet Union (FSU - also often called Economies in Transition) fell by around 40% because of the collapse of their economies, while the total of emissions from developing countries increased by nearly 40%. Since 2000, global emissions from fossil fuel burning have continued to rise at an average of about 3% per year.

As we shall learn later in the chapter, stabilisation of carbon dioxide emissions would not lead in the foreseeable future to stabilisation of atmospheric concentrations. Stabilisation of emissions could only be a short-term aim. In the longer term much more substantial reductions of emissions are necessary.

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