The alarming message from international scientists to
political leaders meeting at today’s UN climate summit in New York is
that record global CO2 emissions this year mean ‘delaying action is not an option’. Tim Radford from Climate News Network reports.
GLOBAL CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS will this year reach a new record as
power stations, cars, buses, trains, aircraft, tractors, factories,
farms and cement works continue to burn fossil fuels − releasing an
estimated 40 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
And the world’s chances of limiting global average surface warming to
2°C – an ambition agreed by the world’s political leaders in Copenhagen
in 2009 − are dwindling, according to new studies published just ahead of the United Nations summit on climate change opening in New York later today.
Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, chair
in mathematical modelling of climate systems at Exeter University, UK,
and a consortium of colleagues from the UK, Norway, Switzerland,
Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia report in Nature Geoscience that
despite attempts to reduce fossil fuel dependence, greenhouse gas
emissions have on average continued to grow by 2.5% per year for the
This means that, if there is a ration or quota of emitted carbon
dioxide consistent with a 2°C increase, then the world has already used
up two-thirds of it. And if it goes on burning fuel at the 2014 rate,
then this ration will be exhausted within 30 years.
The study, part of a package of papers and reflections in Nature Geoscience and Nature Climate Change calculated to inform debate and crystallise opinion, has been widely endorsed by other climate scientists.
David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, UK, said:
“If this were a bank statement, it would say our credit is running out.”
The scientists, partners in a research consortium called the Global Carbon Project,
list the top four emitters of carbon dioxide: China – emissions grew by
4.2%; US – emissions increased by 2.9%, thanks to a rebound in coal
consumption; India – emissions grew by 5.1%, as a result of robust
economic performance; European Union – emissions actually fell by 1.8%,
due to weak economic growth.
One of the report’s authors, Robbie Andrew, a senior research fellow at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (Cicero), in Norway said China’s contribution is alarming:
“China now emits more than the U.S. and EU combined and has CO2 emissions per person 45% higher than the global average, exceeding even the EU average.”
And co-author Glen Peters, also a senior research fellow at Cicero, said:
“Globally, emissions would need sustained and unprecedented
reductions of around 7% per year for a likely chance to stay within the
Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, UK, said:
“The human influence on climate change is clear. We need substantial and sustained reductions in CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels if we are to limit climate change.
“We are nowhere near the commitments necessary to stay below 2°C
of climate change − a level that will already be challenging to manage
for most countries around the world, even for rich nations. Politicians
meeting in New York need to think very carefully about their diminishing
choices exposed by climate science.”
Professor Friedlingstein stressed:
“Delaying action is not an option. We need to act together, and
act quickly if we are to stand a chance of avoiding climate change not
long into the future, but within many of our own lifetimes.”
Most of the message in the Nature Geoscience paper is already familiar as scientists in Europe, Asia and the US have repeatedly stressed that even a 2°C increase in average global temperatures could have alarming consequences for hundreds of millions of people.
The timing of the publication is a reminder of the problem’s urgency, and many of the Nature Geoscience report’s authors also offer a prescription for action in the journal Nature Climate Change.
In this they try to outline ways in which the burden of reduction
might be shared among the world’s nations. This is essentially a
political problem that will require sustained international negotiation
Professor Myles Allen, who heads the Climate Dynamics Group at Oxford University, UK, said:
"It is depressing that the immediate reaction to the news we have
a limited carbon pie is discussion of how countries can slice it up. We
didn’t save the ozone layer by rationing deodorant."
But David Victor, professor of international relations at the University of California San Diego, in an accompanying essay in Nature Climate Change, warns that researchers and campaigners
'… have focused too much scientific talent on abstract goals and
not enough on understanding the practical actions that individual
governments, firms and individuals would take to meet global goals.'
The New York summit is one of a series that will lead up to the UN
climate change summit in Paris in 2015, and Professor Victor foresees a
need for climate scientists to work with social scientists to understand
better how attitudes change and policies are decided.
'It is highly unlikely that the Paris summit will deliver an
accord that limits warming to 2°C, and hopes for that outcome in the
scientific community are built on a naïve vision that science sets goals
and that politicians, once they shed the scales from their eyes, will
follow in lockstep.
'Awareness of what the behavioural sciences can bring suggests,
as well, that the era of really important science is perhaps just
~ Climate News Network