That is the assessment of Lord Stern of the London School of Economics after reviewing the latest International Energy Agency figures on carbon emissions in 2010. The report shows that the global recession had only a minimal effect on carbon emissions and that 2010 saw a record 30.6 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions, up a full 1.6 Gt over 2009.
The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially "dangerous climate change " – is likely to be just "a nice Utopia ", according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA.
Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. "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 ," he said.
"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 ."
• About 80% of the power stations likely to be in use in 2020 are either already built or under construction, the IEA found. Most of these are fossil fuel power stations unlikely to be taken out of service early, so they will continue to pour out carbon – possibly into the mid-century. The emissions from these stations amount to about 11.2Gt, out of a total of 13.7Gt from the electricity sector. These "locked-in" emissions mean savings must be found elsewhere.
"It means the room for manoeuvre is shrinking," warned Birol.
• Another factor that suggests emissions will continue their climb is the crisis in the nuclear power industry. Following the tsunami damage at Fukushima, Japan and Germany have called a halt to their reactor programmes, and other countries are reconsidering nuclear power.
"People may not like nuclear, but it is one of the major technologies for generating electricity without carbon dioxide ," said Birol. The gap left by scaling back the world's nuclear ambitions is unlikely to be filled entirely by renewable energy, meaning an increased reliance on fossil fuels.
• Added to that, the United Nations-led negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change have stalled. "The significance of climate change in international policy debates is much less pronounced than it was a few years ago ," said Birol.
The German government has announced it will abandon nuclear power generation completely by 2022. It will be interesting to see just how Germany will make good the nuclear power deficiency. If any country can muster the political will to launch a major renewables programme, it's probably Germany. However Germany remains committed to coal power generation on the promise of carbon capture and sequestration technology as a solution to emissions problems.