According to new estimates that were released this week by the International Energy Agency, global emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide in 2010 were the highest ever measured at 30.6 gigatonnes, which equates to a 5 percent jump over the previous record year of 2008. The 2010 increase follows a decline in 2009 of global emissions, which were impacted by the economic downturn.
The large leap in emissions suggests to us that limiting rising average temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which is the threshold that most scientists believe is crucial for preventing runaway and irreversible impacts of climate change, will be an increasingly impossible goal to attain. Some even estimate that it is even possible to have a 4C rise in temperatures by the year 2060 according to a report in the Science News.
The International Energy Agency report concluded the following:
“This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2ºC,” said Dr Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the IEA who oversees the annual World Energy Outlook, the Agency’s flagship publication.
Global leaders agreed a target of limiting temperature increase to 2°C at the UN climate change talks in Cancun in 2010. For this goal to be achieved, the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be limited to around 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent, only a 5% increase compared to an estimated 430 parts per million in 2000.
The IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook set out the 450 Scenario, an energy pathway consistent with achieving this goal, based on the emissions targets countries have agreed to reach by 2020. For this pathway to be achieved, global energy-related emissions in 2020 must not be greater than 32 Gt.This means that over the next ten years, emissions must rise less in total than they did between 2009 and 2010.
“Our latest estimates are another wake-up call,” said Dr Birol. “The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2ºC target is to be attained. Given the shrinking room for manœuvre in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed in Cancun.”
In terms of fuels, 44% of the estimated CO2 emissions in 2010 came from coal, 36% from oil, and 20% from natural gas.
The challenge of improving and maintaining quality of life for people in all countries while limiting CO2 emissions has never been greater. While the IEA estimates that 40% of global emissions came from OECD countries in 2010, these countries only accounted for 25% of emissions growth compared to 2009. Non-OECD countries – led by China and India – saw much stronger increases in emissions as their economic growth accelerated.
According to the Science News Report.
There’s not much time to reach binding international agreements for limiting greenhouse gas emissions if climate negotiators are going to meet the goal of keeping global average temperatures from climbing no more than 2 degrees Celsius above those typical of pre-industrial times. Continuing with a business-as-usual approach to energy use into the foreseeable future could foster a 4 degree C warming, perhaps as early as the 2060s, a package of new papers concludes.
Climate negotiators tend to focus on political goals, like setting timetables of 2020 or 2050 for when binding emissions limits should go into effect, notes Oxford’s Niel Bowerman. “But Mother Nature doesn’t care about what we emit in any particular year,” the atmospheric physicist says. “What matters is cumulative carbon emissions.”
His Oxford colleagues have calculated that to keep maximum global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius, humanity can spew greenhouse gases equivalent to no more than 1 trillion metric tons of carbon (or 3.67 million metric tons of carbon dioxide) by 2200. Already, he adds, regarding this carbon limit: “We’re just over halfway there.”
Also important, he and his colleagues argue in their new paper, is the maximum rate at which society emits that carbon. If it’s too high, warming may occur faster than society can accommodate. That peak emission rate will occur within the next decade or so, he says, so “there’s an urgent need to peak emissions quickly if we want to prevent dangerous rates of warming within our lifetime.”
Such a dramatic temperature increase would be expected to trigger extensive, recurring droughts in some parts of the world, flood coastlines as sea levels rise and drastically alter the types of crops that can survive where lands remain arable, notes Mark New of the University of Oxford in England. New contributed to several of the 11 papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. The journal issue, officially dated January 13, 2011, has been posted early online to coincide with the November 29 start in Cancun, Mexico of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
While the findings may include some speculation, the point is they are accurate, for the most part in our behaviors. I don’t see any major changes from our business as usual doctrine that we are accustomed to. With the political landscape in the US muddied beyond recognition anymore by extremists, self interests, and lobbyists, as well as a fragile economy, I would not expect any major changes in the way we do business on a large scale. We may even see some setbacks, as the economy becomes more important than the planet.
This is the crucial element which stands between our emissions and the planet, the economy. Most will argue it will be doomed if we instigate any wholesale changes in CO2 emissions which cost business money, while others argue that the green movement will sustain the economy. This will be argued for some time I would imagine, until we are all knee deep in flood waters, standing by our home destroyed by some other natural disaster. I don’t think they are planning for the costs of the ‘coming storm’, in regards to the climate changes we are already experiencing, and those that will will experience over the next decades for that matter. What will the cost be of that, and will we be able to sustain those costs? That is what we must truly consider the next time we rule out any type of emissions controls, not the cost of a few jobs or a few dollars. We must consider the potential loss of lives, monies, and whole communities before we vote instinctively down any resolutions that may help the planet and ourselves down the road.