Emissions of carbon dioxide have accelerated sharply, according to a new analysis by the Global Carbon Project. It has  calculated that, whereas emissions were rising by less than 1% annually up to the year 2000, they are now rising at 2.5% per year.

Dr Mike Rapauch of the Australian government’s research organisation CSIRO, who co-chairs the Global Carbon Project, told delegates at a scientific conference in Australia that 7.9 billion tonnes (gigatonnes, Gt) of carbon passed into the atmosphere last year; in 2000, the figure was 6.8Gt.

“From 2000 to 2005, the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions was more than 2.5% per year, whereas in the 1990s it was less than 1% per year,” Rapauch said.

The Global Carbon Project draws its data from a wide range of sources, including measurements of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and studies on fossil fuel use. From that data, researchers have extracted two trends which they believe explain the sharp upturn found around the year 2000.

“There has been a change in the trend regarding fossil fuel intensity, which is basically the amount of carbon you need to burn for a given unit of wealth,” explained Corinne Le Quere, a Global Carbon Project member who holds posts at the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey.

“From about 1970 the intensity decreased – we became more efficient at using energy – but we’ve been getting slightly worse since the year 2000,” she told the BBC News website.

“At these rates, it certainly sounds like we’ll end up towards the high end of the emission scenarios considered by the IPCC,” Myles Allen from Oxford University, one of Britain’s leading climate modelers adds. “At the moment the assumption is we will solve the problem by controlling demand; but regulating at the point of use is clearly not working.”

Allen added that: “We need to think about radical alternatives to the belt-tightening approach”.

How about an end to all oil subsidies? That’s a perverse subsidy we could change overnight.