Record carbon emissions fuel urgent calls for cuts

New York traffic congestion provides a stark reminder of the CO2 emissions danger. Image: ILMRT,  Wikimedia Commons.
New York traffic congestion provides a stark reminder of the CO2 emissions danger.
Image: ILMRT, Wikimedia Commons.

The alarming message from international scientists to political leaders meeting at the UN climate summit in New York is that  delaying is not an option with global carbon emissions soaring to unseen heights.

Carbon dioxide emissions will reach a new record globally this year as power stations, cars, buses, trains, aircraft, and factories burn fossil fuels at a torrid pace − 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 on Tuesday.

Despite attempts to reduce fossil fuel dependence, emissions are expected to grow by 2.5% per year for the next decade, Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, Chair in Mathematical Modelling of Climate Systems at Britain’s Exeter University and a consortium of European and Australian colleagues report in Nature Geoscience.

Ration exhausted

This means that the world has already used up two-thirds of it of its carbon budget consistent with a 2°C increase and if we continue  burning fuel at the 2014 rate the entire ration will be exhausted within 30 years.

“If this were a bank statement, it would say our credit is running out,” said David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh.

The scientists, partners in the research consortium called the Global Carbon Project, list the top four emitters: China, where emissions grew by 4.2%, US, up 2.9%, India, up 5.1%,  and the European Union, where emissions fell by 1.8%, due to weak growth.

“China now emits more than the US and EU combined and has CO2 emissions per person 45% higher than the global average, exceeding even the EU average,” said one of the report’s authors, Robbie Andrew, a senior research fellow at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo in Norway.

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 quota.”

“Delaying action is not an option…”

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.”

The details in the Nature Geoscience paper are largely familiar as scientists globally have repeatedly stressed that even a 2°C increase in average global temperatures could have alarming consequences for hundreds of millions of people.

Abstract goals

David Victor, professor of international relations at the University of California San Diego, warned in an accompanying essay in Nature Climate Change that researchers “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 Prof Victor foresees a need for climate scientists to work with social scientists to better understand 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 naive vision that science sets goals and that politicians, once they shed the scales from their eyes, will follow in lockstep,” he said.

“Awareness of what the behavioural sciences can bring suggests, as well, that the era of really important science is perhaps just beginning.” – Climate News Network

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