Should current trends be allowed to continue, the levels of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere in 2050 will be far higher than those able to restrict climate change to acceptable levels, says a new European Commission study.

The study, published on 8 January, sets out reference figures for what the Commission believes will be the likely scenario for 2050 should existing economic and technological trends continue. It finds that CO2 emissions will reach a level of around 45 gigatonnes per year in 2050, resulting in a concentration in the atmosphere of between 900 and 1,000 ppmv (parts per million by volume). This is over double the 1990 emissions level, which was around 20 Gt CO2, and far higher than levels which scientists believe will be able to limit climate change to within two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.

The figures, which DG Research is describing as representing a reference, or business as usual', scenario, foresee total world energy consumption rising to 22 Gtoe (gigatonnes oil equivalent) in 2050, compared to around 10 Gtoe per year at present, with fossil fuels accounting for 70% of this total. In terms of the different fossil fuels used, coal will play a much more significant part in meeting energy demand than today, accounting for around 26% of consumption while oil and natural gas will account for around 26% and 18%, respectively.

For oil, the study finds that production levels of conventional oil (as opposed to non-conventional production, such as that involving extra-heavy oil and tar sands) will reach a plateau' rather than the peak that many analysts are expecting. This plateau will be caused by a rise in production to around 100 Mbl/d (million barrels per day) by 2030, with this level then remaining stable through to 2050. The explanation for this plateau, according to the Commission, lies in a rise in prices on the international market, which will reach US$110 per barrel in 2050, with a consequent impact on demand.

Domenico Rossetti, an official in DG Research, indicated that these figures essentially represent the "most probable outcome if we do not take strong measures". He explained that the figures are based on a scenario in which the international community attempts to counter climate change using only "moderate" climate...

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