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Latest global emissions figures in

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Climate change

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Global carbon dioxide emissions have reached an all-time high, with atmospheric CO2 levels growing by about four billion tonnes of carbon in 2008, according to the latest figures released today.

The findings of respected climate research group the Global Carbon Project (GPC) have shown emissions from human fossil fuel use rose 2 per cent in 2008, with 1.3 tonnes of carbon now being released each year for every person around the world.

"CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion are estimated to have increased 41 per cent above 1990 levels, with emissions continuing to track close to the worst-case scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," said Australia's Mike Raupach, co-chair of the GPC and one of the lead authors of the new research.

Though between 2000 and 2007 there was "a massive growth in emissions of 3.7 per cent per year", Raupach said that 2008's slightly slower growth of 2 per cent was a significant upward trend and "compound emissions interest" nonetheless.

"We think we've seen this slower growth because of the beginnings of the effects of the global financial crisis," he explained, noting that emissions are closely tied to economic activity.

While there will likely be a small downturn in 2009's emissions figures because of the financial crisis, Raupach warned that emissions growth will resume apace once the economy recovers, "unless the global effort to reduce emissions from human activity is accelerated."

"If the recovery follows current predictions, the effect of the GFC will be as if all burning of fossil fuels had been stopped for a period of just 6 weeks. The GFC has not bought us much time."

The GCP's findings have also indicated that the world's natural carbon sinks - growing vegetation and oceans - are having difficulty keeping up with rising emissions.

Carbon sinks absorb masses of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and therefore help to buffer the impact of rising human-related emissions.

Over the last 50 years roughly 29 per cent of yearly CO2 emissions have been sequestered by plants and 26 per cent have been taken up by the world's oceans - leaving 45 per cent to linger in the atmosphere.

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