According to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency (IEA), we humans emitted a historically high level of carbon last year, pushing our output to 30.6 gigatonnes (up 1.6 gigatonnes from 2009). This estimate debunks the rumors flying around that the global recession would aide in the mission to reduce carbon emissions, and has scientists saying that we’ve now only a miniscule chance of turning global climate change around. We’ll be honest, this news is bringing the Inhabiteam down — we’re sitting here wondering if we’re just yelling at a brick wall.

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“These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] projections, such a path … would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100,” Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics told the Guardian. “Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce,” Stern added.

With the 2010 estimates now on the table, the truly frightening math can be done. IEA estimates that in order to escape the worst of global climate change we need to keep global carbon levels below 32 gigatonnes by 2020. If last year’s numbers continue through 2011 we’ll meet that goal nine years ahead of schedule. In the midst of the worst of the global economic crisis — from 2008 to 2009 — global emissions actually fell by a small amount and though they were expected to rise slightly last year, this jump is quite shocking to scientists around the globe.

“This news should shock the world. Yet, even now, politicians in each of the great powers are eyeing up extraordinary and risky ways to extract the world’s last remaining reserves of fossil fuels – even from under the melting ice of the Arctic,” John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK said of the news. “You don’t put out a fire with gasoline. It will now be up to us to stop them.”

Via Grist