Page last updated at 08:28 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Climate change: Copenhagen in graphics

Coal fired power station
The energy supply is the biggest source of emissions globally

Where do greenhouse gas emissions come from?

Which countries are most responsible for causing human-induced climate change?

And have governments pledged tough enough cuts so far to keep the global average temperature rise within "safe limits"?

As the UN summit in Copenhagen approaches, we look at the past, present and possible futures of climate change.

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Growing populations and rising living standards helped drive emissions ever upwards during the second half of the 20th century. In the first years of the new century, China's emissions overtook those of the US.
climate change image
Most aspects of modern life can require the burning of fossil fuels in some form, whether it is the daily commute, cooking a meal or heating a home. The energy supply is the greatest contributor to man-made global warming.
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Carbon dioxide is the most significant gas in the man-made greenhouse effect. Methane and nitrous oxide - from agriculture and industry - have a more powerful warming effect per molecule, but smaller concentrations in the atmosphere.
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Global emissions have risen steadily in recent decades.


But when trying to assign "responsibility" for causing climate change, how should they be measured?

Populous developing countries such as China and India have relatively high overall emissions - comparable with many developed countries.

But each of their citizens produces a much smaller amount than counterparts in regions such as North America or Western Europe.

Countries that industrialised early and grew rich early because of that industrialisation, such as the UK, Germany and the US, have a higher "historical footprint".

In some peoples' eyes, this gives them a higher responsibility for curbing the problem.

Graphic: Carbon emissions

A number of academic teams have calculated how emissions are likely to rise in the next few decades, and what that is likely to mean in terms of rising temperatures.

Manmohan Singh, Barack Obama and Hu Jintao

Their projections are not exact because there are many sources of uncertainty in the calculations, including the exact relationship between greenhouse gas levels and temperature rise.

A number of developed countries and blocs have set targets for cutting their emissions, some of which depend on what other countries do.

The EU, for example, will cut emissions by 20% from 1990 levels - but if there is a global deal, that will rise to 30%.

Some developing nations have also pledged to reduce the rate at which their emissions are growing.

If implemented, are these curbs enough to keep the global average temperature rise below 2C - the target adopted by G8, the EU and a number of major developing countries?

According to the European Climate Foundation analysis - and others - commitments made so far are probably not enough to meet the G8 target.

Image displaying the chances of hitting the C02 emissions target from 1990 to 2030

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