Efforts to control climate change require the stabilization of atmospheric CO 2 concentrations. This can only be achieved through a drastic reduction of global CO 2 emissions. Yet fossil fuel emissions increased by 29% between 2000 and 2008, in conjunction with increased contributions from emerging economies, from the production and international trade of goods and services, and from the use of coal as a fuel source. In contrast, emissions from land-use changes were nearly constant. Between 1959 and 2008, 43% of each year's CO 2 emissions remained in the atmosphere on average; the rest was absorbed by carbon sinks on land and in the oceans. In the past 50 years, the fraction of CO 2 emissions that remains in the atmosphere each year has likely increased, from about 40% to 45%, and models suggest that this trend was caused by a decrease in the uptake of CO 2 by the carbon sinks in response to climate change and variability. Changes in the CO 2 sinks are highly uncertain, but they could have a significant influence on future atmospheric CO 2 levels. It is therefore crucial to reduce the uncertainties. © 2009 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.