The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that global carbon emissions set a record in 2010, rebounding from the recession to exceed 2008 levels. The EPA found in April that US carbon emissions dipped in 2009, mirroring the rest of the world. But though the recession has recovered in 2010 slowly in the industrialized world, and economic output (which has followed carbon emissions, for obvious reasons) has not reached pre-recession levels, growth in emerging markets pushed emissions up. China and India accounted for most of the increase. There was actually a belief that the recession would arrest the increase in emissions, but it didn’t account for record growth in emerging nations.

At a meeting last year in Cancun, Mexico, world leaders agreed that deep cuts were needed to limit the rise in global temperature to 2C above pre-industrial levels.

But according to the IEA’s estimate, CO2 emissions reached a record 30.6 gigatonnes in 2010.

The IEA’s Fatih Birol said the finding was “another wake-up call”.

It doesn’t seem like there’s any chance to reduce carbon emissions to a level sufficient to produce only a 2 degree (Celsius) rise in temperature. That increase is seen by scientists as the threshold of “dangerous climate change.” It looks like a 4C rise is more probable than a 2C rise by 2100. That’s a death sentence for millions of people around the world, in addition to a mass migration numbering in the hundreds of millions.

Meaningful reductions in CO2 emissions in the United States are a dead letter politically at this stage. The best hope for climate activists is to join in the carbon tax movement in Australia, to at least gain a beachhead in the type of emission reduction strategy that can be replicated globally. But there’s a very real sense that emission reduction efforts will come too late, and that activists must turn their attention to mitigation or even geoengineering to actually have an impact.