29 May 2012

Projected warming increases as emissions rise, politics fails

Climate scoreboard at 29 May 2012. View live scoreboard
This chart needs no explanation. The Climate Scoreboard is an online tool that allows the public to track progress in the ongoing negotiations to produce an international climate treaty. The Scoreboard automatically reports, on a daily basis, whether proposals in the treaty process commit countries to enough greenhouse gas emissions reductions to achieve widely expressed goals, such as limiting future warming to 1.5 to 2.0°C (2.7 to 3.6°F) above pre-industrial temperatures. And users can explore the analysis behind the numbers. At time of posting, the scoreboard projected an increase in global temperature of 4.5°C by 2100.
     Its important to note that the calculations shown in the scoreboard and graphs relate to proposals by countries and country groups. They are not assessments of the actual progress made to fulfill those proposals.
     The yellow “business-as-usual” line represents the estimated global temperature increase in 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. The blue “proposals” line represents the estimated global temperature increase in 2100 if the current proposals were enacted. The shaded blue curve shows the uncertainty in the climate system’s response to emissions. The green “goals” line represents the goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°-2.0°C
The scoreboard in January 2011
     In January last year, I captured the scoreboard when writing a report on what 4 degrees of warming would look like. The image is at right.  What is disturbing is that between January 2011 and now (May 2012) the projected rise has increased a full half-a-degree Celsius, from 4.0C to 4.5C.
    And the reason is the deadly combination of political failure and rising emissions. According to preliminary estimates from the International Energy Agency, global carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil-fuel combustion increased 3.2 per cent in 2011 compared to 2010, to reach a record high of  31.6 gigatonnes.
     More than half of all carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere comes from five countries – China, the United States, India, Russia and Japan –  according to a national ranking of greenhouse gas emissions.
     The Global Carbon Project found that in the previous year,  2010, the annual growth rate of atmospheric CO2 2.36 ppm (ppm = parts per million), one of the largest growth rates in the past decade. The average for the decade 2000-2009 was 1.9 ppm per year, compared to 1.5 ppm for the decade 1990-1999, and 1.6 for the decade 1980-1989. The 2010 increase brought the atmospheric CO2 concentration to 389.6 ppm, 39 per cent above the concentration at the start of the Industrial Revolution (about 278 ppm in 1750). The present concentration is the highest during at least the last 800,000 years according to GCP, but recent research shows they are the highest in the last 20 million years.
     This emission boost runs in parallel with continuing international political failure, most recently with another bout of time-wasting failure in Bonn. So more than ever before the world looks headed for 4 degrees or more of warming, with consequences beyond our imaginations.