Global CO2 emissions exceed IPCC worst case scenario

A comprehensive report released today by the Global Carbon Project contains the grim news that global CO2 emissions are exceeding the most pessimistic IPCC emissions scenario. The annual mean growth of atmospheric CO2 increased from 2.0 ppm (parts per million) during the first half of the decade and from 1.8 ppm in 2006,  to 2.2 ppm in 2007.  This increase in the growth of emissions makes IPCC stabilization scenarios of 450 ppm – 650 ppm doubtful.

Annual mean growth rates of atmospheric CO2 concentration.

The report “Carbon budget and trends 2007” is a sobering synthetic analysis of the world’s carbon budget, including the sources and sinks of CO2 parsed by nation, continent, human activity and ecosystem.

Despite the increasing international sense of urgency, the growth rate of emissions continued to speed up, bringing the atmospheric CO2 concentration to 383 parts per million (ppm) in 2007.  Anthropogenic CO2 emissions have been growing about four times faster since 2000 than during the previous decade, despite efforts to curb emissions in a number of Kyoto Protocol signatory countries.

Dr. Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project said “This new update of thecarbon budget shows the acceleration of both CO2 emissions and atmospheric accumulationare unprecedented and most astonishing during a decade of intense international developments to address climate change.”

Fossil Fuel Emissions: Actual vs. IPCC Scenarios

Some of the report highlights are excerpted below:

Atmospheric CO2 growth: Annual mean growth rate of atmospheric CO2 was 2.2 ppm per year in 2007 (up from 1.8 ppm in 2006), and above the 2.0 ppm average for the period 2000-2007. The average annual mean growth rate for the previous 20 years was about 1.5 ppm per year. This increase brought the atmospheric CO2 concentration to 383 ppm in 2007, 37% above the concentration at the start of the industrial revolution (about 280 ppm in 1750).  The present concentration is the highest during the last 650,000 years and probably during the last 20 million years. [ppm =  parts per million].

Regional fossil fuel emissions
The biggest increase in emissions has taken place in developing countries, largely in China and India, while developed countries have been growing slowly. The largest regional shift was that China passed the U.S. in 2006 to become the largest CO2 emitter, and India will soon overtake Russia to become the third largest emitter. Currently, more than half of the global emissions come from less developed countries. From a historical perspective, developing countries with 80% of the world’s population still account for only 20% of the cumulative emissions since 1751; the poorest countries in the world, with 800 million people, have contributed less than 1% of these cumulative emissions.

Conclusions: Anthropogenic CO2 emissions have been growing about four times faster since 2000 than during the previous decade, and despite efforts to curb emissions in a number of countries which are signatories of the Kyoto Protocol. Emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel and land use change reached the mark of 10 billion tones of carbon in 2007. Natural CO2 sinks are growing, but more slowly than atmospheric CO2, which has been growing at 2 ppm per year since 2000. This is 33% faster than during the previous 20 years. All of these changes characterize a carbon cycle that is generating stronger climate forcing and sooner than expected.


Global Carbon Project (2008) Carbon budget and trends 2007, [, 26 September 2008]”

” Climate change isn’t something to be believed or disbelieved”

The Guardian, September 4th 2008 (by Martin Parry, lead author of the 2007 assessment of impacts and adaptation by the IPCC)

"The media love a good argument, and what better than to pitch polemicists against each other from opposite ends of the spectrum? Thus we are given Björn Lomborg v Oliver Tickell in a so-called "climate debate" (Tickell’s apocalyptic view obscures the solutions; Lomborg’s stats won’t mean much underwater, August 21). Regrettably, we learned from this only that sensible solutions are unlikely to flow from entrenched and extreme positions. Most scientists are amazed and alarmed that the issue of climate change should be treated as an article of faith – something either to be believed or disbelieved – rather than a problem surrounded by a lot of uncertainty. What we got from these two was very misleading.

Lomborg claimed: "A lead economist of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] did a survey of all the problems and all the benefits accruing from a temperature rise over this century of about approximately 4C. The bottom line is that benefits right now outweigh the costs." There have been a few studies of the current effects of climate change (for example, on ice shelf and glacier retreat, and on plants and animals) and the IPCC has concluded these are happening faster than had been expected. But despite what Lomborg says there has been no useful assessment of whether these are beneficial or not, because aggregation of effects involves meaningless trade-offs such as comparing the destruction of Inuit communities with the benefits of ice-freed shipping lanes.

Lomborg believes that 4C of global warming "will not be a challenge to our civilisation" and derides Tickell, whom he quotes as stating that warming of this amount would bring "the beginning of the extinction of the human race". Both of these are heroic conclusions, since there has been no study of the limits to our adaptive capacity. The climate change issue has never been about whether we can survive or not, but keeping damages and costs to a tolerable level. The IPCC concluded in 2007 that we risk billions more people being short of water due to climate change, and hundreds of millions at risk of flooding and hunger. That is a lot of suffering, but not the end of civilisation.

There is a strong emerging view, proposed by the IPCC in its latest assessment in 2007, that a careful mixture of mitigation (reducing emissions) and adaptation will be necessary to meet the challenge of climate change. And this is broadly accepted by governments now striving for agreement by the end of next year. The polarised views of both Tickell and Lomborg miss this completely. We know we cannot avoid some serious climate change (our vacillation over the past 10 years has put paid to that), but we can avoid the worst of it. At a minimum we will have to adapt to about 2C of warming. The choice still available to us is whether we should try to avoid more than this amount of warming. Common sense suggests we should, since we do not really know what impacts the future holds, and we risk repeating the mistake of the movie producer Lew Grade who, looking back on the mounting losses of his film Raise the Titanic, concluded: "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic."

“Cut taxes to soften climate pain: Garnaut report” – The Australian

The Australian, 4th July

TAX cuts and welfare reform should be offered to dampen the impact of a new emissions trading scheme, according to the landmark Garnaut climate change report released today.

Kevin Rudd’s chief climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, has today urged the Government to pass on the lion’s share of revenue raised through the new scheme, which will put a price on carbon emissions when it starts in 2010.

He also warns some of Australia’s most celebrated tourist destinations and natural wonders – including the Great Barrier Reef and the wetlands of Kakadu in the Northern Territory – could be lost if action is not taken.

The report paints a bleak picture of the international community’s failure to take earlier action on climate change, warning the development of global pacts to create a more level playing field for key Australian industries is an “urgent matter”.

While Professor Garnaut is fighting for the broadest possible ETS, covering as many industries as possible, he also concedes rising petrol prices are already having an impact on consumer behaviour.

Amid warnings that Mr Rudd’s 2010 timetable for a new trading scheme is a mission impossible, his report also concedes that “much anxiety” was expressed about the possibility of an unconstrained ETS generating high and unstable prices in the early years.

“While there are substantial advantages in moving directly to the unconstrained operation of the proposed emissions trading scheme in 2010, the review accepts there is a legitimate second best case for a fixed price for permits in the early years,” he states.

Continue reading

Opinion pieces in the Guardian Newspaper

A good friend of mine, the economist Professor David Stout drew my attention to these two opinion pieces recently published in The Guardian newspaper (one by the IPCC chair, Rajendra Pachauri, and the other by the environmentalist thinker George Monbiot).   I’m far from agreeing with Rajendra on the hope for the world tackling climate change in time.  Considering we are pumping over 2 ppm CO2 per year, I strongly doubt that there are any signs of change to arrest this in time – having only 8 years left to slide emissions into a downward spiral.


pdfLink to Pachuari commentary (pdf file),

The second commentary resonates far more with me.  As I’ve commented here before on the three scenarios identified by the Stockholm Network, a variant on the upstream cap idea developed by Oliver Tickell suggests a realistic chance for us to constrain our emissions and stabilize at 400 ppm or less. If I am not wrong, the momentum is building for this type of response – the big question is how big oil and energy is going to respond?  I suggest that this is a space to watch closely!

pdf Link to Monbiot commentary (pdf file),

Climate Change in Queensland – What the science is telling us.

The Queensland EPA has just released a major report outlining the escalating risks of a changing climate for this great state. Out of the Australian states, Queensland looks like it will particularly hard hit – perhaps with a 5oC increase in temperature by 2070. Maybe we should think twice about exporting so much coal without any real strategy for the associated emissions? The future is in our hands. Read on …

Continue reading

Global action call to save reefs

Eminent coral scientists have given world leaders in Bali more reason to act urgently against climate change, by producing a new report that warns coral reefs will disappear within decades if atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise.

Their paper, published today in the prestigious Science magazine, is the most compelling scientific case yet that unchecked global warming will be a disaster for coral reefs and the 100 million people and one million species depending on them.

CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere is currently 380 parts per million (ppm) but the authors say if future emissions exceed 450ppm we risk losing reefs.

“This is a very ambitious target and should represent yet another reality check for world leaders meeting in Bali,” lead author UQ Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said.

Reducing CO2 emissions must also be accompanied by reducing reef risks such as overfishing, pollution and unsustainable coastal developments, a cross-section of the report’s authors (all of whom are members of the Coral Reef Targeted Research and Capacity Building for Management Program, CRTR) said at UQ.
Tools needed to reduce stress on coral reefs already exist, and include: increased protection of river catchment and coastal areas; co-management arrangements between governments and local communities; improved catchment, water quality and environmental flow measures; fishing regulation enforcement; restoration of reefs and coastal vegetation; and sustainable tourism.
The study has found serious consequences follow on from even small increases in CO2.

“The warmer and more acidic oceans caused by the rise of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels threaten to destroy coral dominated reef ecosystems, exposing people to flooding, coastal erosion and the loss of food and income from reef-based fisheries and tourism,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
“This is happening just when many nations are hoping that growing industries like tourism and fisheries will allow them to develop beyond their often impoverished state.
“Increased CO2 not only warms the climate but also dissolves in sea water making it more acidic.
“This, in turn, decreases the ability of corals to produce calcium carbonate, which is what the all-important framework of coral reefs is made of.”

Continue reading

Facing up to the realities of climate change

Developed countries must ‘show some spine’ on climate change
ABC News, 19th November

Some 2,500 scientists worked on the IPCC’s findings. The UN believes the worst case scenarios of global warming could be avoided if there were sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The economic cost it argues, is minimal compared with the cost of doing nothing.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is the Director of Marine Studies at the University of Queensland and also contributed to the IPCC report. “The report points out that if we are going to avoid those catastrophic scenarios, we actually have to peak our emissions in 2015, which is just around the corner, eight years away,” he said. “Now to do that, we have to have really major efforts to change the way we use energy and we’re going to have to have a range of international treaties in place not in 2012 but literally tomorrow.”

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg says it is imperative that developed nations such as Australia and the US set an example by cutting emissions immediately through reducing energy needs, better insulation and construction standards and use of technology that currently exists, like solar energy. “It’s up to the developed countries to show some spine on this issue and avoid what will be a global catastrophe. It’s relatively cost effective – in fact it’s you know, really quite cheap – to address the issue and achieve that level of stabilisation.

“If we go down the street of trying to stabilise at about 450 parts per million, it will shave only, and this is an upper estimate, only about 0.12 per cent of the average annual growth in GDP.” (Read more)

Oceans fail the Acid Test

Science Alert, 22nd November

Acid oceans are the elephant in the room of global change – an event potentially so massive and profound in its implications for life on Earth that the world media has largely avoided it, governments shunned it and scientists discussed it mostly in muted tones, usually behind closed doors.The acid oceans theory is quite straightforward: the CO2 emitted by human activity dissolves out of the atmosphere into the seas, gradually turning them more acidic. This is largely independent of global warming or other effects. It is a straight equation – about half of all the CO2 produced since the start of the industrial revolution has ended up in the sea, reducing the surface pH by 0.1 (some experiments indicate as much as 0.3 pH).

The change in acidity may seem minor but experiments by the Centre’s Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg suggest it could be enough to shut down coral growth and kill the calcareous algae that hold together the fronts of reefs. He has warned that Australia risks losing the Great Barrier Reef if atmospheric CO2 levels rise above 500 parts per million from their current level of 385ppm, as they are currently expected to do by mid-century.

If that were not serious enough, an even more profound impact is likely to occur among calcareous plankton which will be unable to form their chalky skeletons as the water acidifies. The vulnerable corals and plankton make up about a third of all life in the oceans. (Read more)

Analysis of the Australian government response to the IPCC

IPCC report shows Australian targets a sham
By Chris McGrath, Brisbane barrister and Climate Project presenter


Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Garrett both claim vindication on climate change from the synthesis report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Both are wrong.

Labor has a policy of reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050 compared with year 2000 emissions.


The Liberals have attacked this target as “likely to damage the economy”. They refuse to state their own target for emissions but this must logically be less onerous than Labor’s.


The central difficulty for both Labor and the Liberals in claiming vindication from the latest IPCC report is it indicates a 60% reduction in emissions by 2050 will be inadequate to protect our most valuable environmental assets such as the Great Barrier Reef.

Continue reading

“Failing to act on climate change is criminally irresponsible.”

The Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released overnight in Valencia, Spain. If there is one thing that you are going to read from the IPCC, then it should be this document.

This is the final phase of the 4th Assessment report. The SPM draws together the evidence, discussion and conclusions of the 3 IPCC working groups from the fourth assessment report and provide it as a no-nonsense, on-partisan digest for policy makers.

Summarizing most the conclusions that fall into the IPCC’s ‘likely’ to ‘almost certain’ categories, the following seems to true for climate change. We are now in a rapidly warming climate that is changing natural and human systems. The burning of fossil fuels and land-use change by humans is driving these changes. Ice is disappearing from our glaciers and snow fields, water supplies are drying up and food production is being threatened. Natural ecosystems from rainforest to the southern ocean are changing rapidly. Millions of lives are threatened by the combination of a hot house future, with rising sea levels and intensifying natural disasters.

The synthesis highlights several growing certainties. These are that our current trajectory will put us into a world which is described at the upper end of the IPCC trajectories. “There is high agreement and much evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GHG (Green House Gas) emissions will continue to grow over the next few decades.“

Specifically, this will involve the loss of water supplies to hundreds of millions, the loss of coral reefs, rainforests and other significant global assets, the loss of 50% or more of species, increasing crop failures at low latitudes, inundation of coastal areas, and a rapidly rising death toll from disease, flooding and heat waves. The kicker is that many of these impacts, while serious at high latitudes will be greatest for developing nations which are mostly clustered at low latitudes.

The worst impacts will be on those people who least can afford to respond. Hence, in the words of Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “Failing to recognize the urgency of this message and acting on it would be nothing less than criminally irresponsible.”

Continue reading

IPCC release “Climate Change 2007” – the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one of the most rigorous scientific processes of modern times. In the synthesis report released today in Valencia, Spain, it has reasserts the undeniable evidence that the earth is warming rapidly due the rise of anthropogenic generated greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. These changes are being driven by the burning of fossil fuels and the massive destruction of nature landscapes such as forests.

The changes that we are seeing are unprecedented in the last several million years. Events thought to be unlikely, such as the breakup of the polar and Greenland ice sheets are now happening. The report indicates that natural ecosystems are changing rapidly, water availability is diminishing and that impacts on food supply for many countries will continue to grow. This report is yet another wake-up call to the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change.

Coral reefs are indicative of the changes that are occurring in natural ecosystems. Worldwide coral reefs are responsible for supporting the subsistence food supply for it leased 100 million people. It coral reefs disappear, as the IPCC report warns, there would be catastrophic consequences for many societies throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. For Australia, a loss of coral reefs would have serious economic consequences for boom economy states like Queensland. At present, the second-largest industry in Queensland is the tourist industry generated by the beauty and ecologically pristine nature of the Great Barrier Reef. Without the Great Barrier Reef, this $6 billion per year industry would dwindle.

The IPCC synthesis report also provides the very strong case that the consequences for human societies everywhere will be catastrophic if we don’t act right now. Decisive, non-partisan action is required. This action must listen to the science and the seriousness of the problem. It must act on that science. Anything less is foolhardy.

Without acting right now we will miss the only opportunity to act. Strong leadership is required that sets clear targets that must reduce our emissions to less than 10% within the next three decades. We have not seen that leadership in Australia or elsewhere as yet. Currently, with Australia’s leading the world as the highest emitters of CO2 per person, changing our current disastrous track will require some strong and clever decisions. Given this and the fact that we are wealthy as a nation, we should be leading the world rather than dragging our feet.

While both sides of politics in the recent electoral debates have recognized the issue of climate change as being important, both sides have been reluctant to specify the action that they will take to reduce emissions over the next few decades. This is unfortunate given that we need strong leadership not only to adapt to climate change (which is where most of the money has gone so far) and also to specify strong emission reduction targets that are commensurate with the scale of this global emergency. This decade may be among the last in which we can choose between a future during which humans to continue to prosper in many regions, versus one in which we will continually struggle to survive as the climate becomes more and more hostile, and beyond our control.