Monday, 3 December 2012

C02 emissions continue to rise but who is listening?

There was a note of exasperation in the quote by Professor Corinne Le Quere in the press release from the University of East Anglia.

She was commenting on the latest projections for the annual rise in C02 emissions for 2012 which are estimated at 2.6% reaching a record high of 35.6 billion tonnes

The rise means global emissions from burning fossil fuel are 58% above 1990  levels, the baseline for the Kyoto Protocol and the figures were released during the United Nations Climate Change talks in Doha and well below what is needed to limit climate change to 2C by the end of the century.

Professor Le Quere, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and  professor at UAE, who led the research, said: "These latest figures come amidst climate change talks in Doha. But with emissions continuing to grow. it's as if no-one is listening to the entire scientific community.

"These are huge changes in the path of emissions. We are following a very  fossil intensive society where we produce energy. And if that continues into the future then the scenario of climate change that we are on leads to 4-6 degrees of climate change by the end of the century. This is huge changes in climate.

The latest analysis by the Global Carbon Project is published in the journal Nature Climate Change with the data released at the same time by the journal Earth System Science Data Discussions.

The biggest contributors to global emissions in 2011 were China (28%), the United States (16%), the European Union (11%) and India (7%).

Emissions in China and India grew by 9.9% and 7.5% on 2011, while those of the United States and the European Union  decreased by 1.8% and 2,8%.

This year's figure is given a 68% confidence but is in line with the average 3% rise in emissions since the turn of the century.

In 1750 the C02 concentration in the atmosphere was an estimated 278 part per million. Now the figure stands at 391.4 ppm.

There is an undisputed link between carbon in the atmosphere and global temperatures.

Professor Le Quere told me: "We know that greenhouse gases are the fingerprints of climate change. There are lots of fingerprints in things like the oceans that these are changes in climate forced by greenhouse gases. There is uncertainty but that is more about how much climate change there will be for given emissions."

This year's projected 2.6% rise is based on economic data so is less reliable than the confirmed average 3% rises in the previous decade. In fast-developing countries like China and India it can be difficult to get fully accurate economic data on the actual growth.

So, if carbon emissions are rising steadily why isn't temperature following? Climate sceptics point to little or no rise in the last ten to 15 years.

Professor Le Quere told me: "The temperature and the climate  is very variable year to year and there is a lot of variablity in the climate which you don't have in the emissions..

"This year the temperature record which has just been published makes this the ninth warmest year on record but the record is 163 years long. So to be the ninth warmest year is actually right there at the top. There is no doubt that the temperature of the decade from 2002 to 2012 was warmer than the previous decade by 0.15 to 0.2 degrees so there is no doubt that the long-term is that of warming."

Deforestation and land use change added about 10% to the emissions but has been stable for the last two decades showing "great progress" she added.

The scientists say that to keep to 2 degrees of warming by the end of the century we need to have peaked in global emissions by 2020 and then reduce by 3% a decade.

On present trends that's a big ask.

But they say previous energy transitions in Belgium, Denmark, France, Sweden and the UK have led to emission reductions as high as 5% each year over decade-long periods, even without climate change policy.

"We are not taking at the level of action which is needed at the moment. The level of action is much below what is needed to limit climate change to 2 degrees," Professor Le Quere said.

Whether, or not, you believe in climate change the scientific evidence for it continues to build with increasing consistency.

I believe sceptics have made a mistake in trying to rubbish the science and make unfounded claims about scientists making things up and being involved in conspiracies.

There is a legitimate political discussion  to have about how important climate change is to the world and how much we should spend to mitigate it now - rather than paying later.

But claiming the scientists have just simply got it wrong looks more and more like a dead end street.

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