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Global carbon emissions jumped 3% in 2007

By Joe Romm on September 25, 2008 at 6:49 pm

"Global carbon emissions jumped 3% in 2007"

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The Global Carbon Project released its “Carbon Budget 2007” [big PDF] today. The report shows a continuation of the grossly unsustainable growth rate in CO2 emissions since 2000, which is nearly four times the growth rate of the 1990s:

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As reported by AP:

it was large increases in China, India and other developing countries that spurred the growth of carbon dioxide pollution [3%] to a record high of 9.34 billion tons of carbon (8.47 billion metric tons)….

Scientists were surprised and dismayed because the increase “exceeds the most dire outlook for emissions from burning coal and oil and related activities” projected by the IPCC and because the increase occurred despite rising fossil fuel prices:

“Things are happening very, very fast,” said Corinne Le Quere, professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s scary.”

Gregg Marland, a senior staff scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said he was surprised at the results because he thought world emissions would drop because of the economic downturn. That didn’t happen.

Accelerating global carbon dioxide emissions inevitably translates into accelerating carbon dioxide concentrations. This is especially true because the carbon sinks are saturating:

Meanwhile, forests and oceans, which suck up carbon dioxide, are doing so at lower rates than in the 20th century, scientists said. If those trends continue, it puts the world on track for the highest predicted rises in temperature and sea level….

Nature can’t keep up with the carbon dioxide from man…. [F]rom 1955 to 2000, the forests and oceans absorbed about 57 percent of the excess carbon dioxide, but now it’s 54 percent.

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The time to act is yesterday.

Related Posts:

You can read more about all things related to carbon emissions trends at Global Carbon Project’s website here.

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25 Responses to Global carbon emissions jumped 3% in 2007

  1. David B. Benson says:

    9 GtC per year, close enough.

    To offset that by growing more biomass requires about 27 Gt of perennials, including trees, bushes and shrubs. (I’m assuming these are 1/3 carbon, dry weight, not including needles or leaves.)

    But that is each and every year. So the older materials have to be cut, torrefied or pyrolysised, and the resulting char sesquestered deep underground. The resulting char is about 75% carbon, so there are 12 Gt to be buried each and every year.

    That’s a sizable target.

    We’d better get started.

    Right away, or we are toast.

  2. Robert says:

    The situation looks fairly hopeless, given that the huge rate of increase in emissions is against a backdrop of increasingly dire warnings from the IPCC and of acceptance of the issue by the public.

    If the world was ever likely to have acted it would have been in the last decade, when economic times were good. In our new world of high energy and food prices, the financial meltdown etc, the last thing anyone wants to think about is emissions.

    Better just hope that 6 degrees of warming isn’t as bad as everyone thinks.

  3. paulm says:

    This is the election of the century.

    Obama better win.

    Obama better do something immediately.

    Obama, Obama, Obama is the only one who can save us.

    Lets hope he can do it.

  4. rjm says:

    carbon burial needs sounds like a huge project. They may as well start with all the bug kill timber in BC.

    any idea of costs involved? big number right? that means debate and delays and compromise. just being realistic. If it happened it would start small and with opposition. I don’t see it being effective for a long time.

  5. Vic says:

    David, biochar sequesteration sounds like a good idea, but where are we going to find the water we’d need to grow that much biomass? Will we need petroleum-based fertilisers just to grow that much biomass as fast as we’ll need to? Where would we grow the trees? (I’d guess areas which used to be forest and where the soil is still viable.) Do we have to use particular species to optimise the process, and how will that affect local ecosystems?

    Joe, correct me if I’m on the wrong track here, but this increasing CO2 rate looks very worrying when combined with the CH4 post you made recently.. Eyeballing the CH4 graph makes it look like about 1800ppb today, so if CH4 is 20 times as potent as CO2, does that mean we have 383 + 36 = 419ppm CO2e in the air right now, just from these two sources? Seems to me that BAU will put us over 450ppm in about ten years. Therefore, to keep us under 450 we’d need to peak emissions pretty much now, then reduce them to the point that natural sequesteration can neutralise emissions AND compensate for the extra CH4 leaking out of the Arctic. How much of a reduction? My (speculative) gut tells me on the order of tens of percent. 450ppm is looking very politically unlikely to me.

  6. Jeff Green says:

    I truly believe that republicans cannot solve this problem. They have sold their soles to fossil fuel companies. This is so polarized, even shocking events can be spun into political resistance.

    The hope I have is that John McCain does look like a dufus. But Republicans have elected worse in the past.

  7. Uosdwis says:

    Wow. I just saw a 10 minute infomercial, I guess, right before Nightline started, where 2 “scientists” purport that it’s solar cycles. It was called “Unstoppable Solar Cycles, the real story of Greenland.” The 2 were Dr. Willie Soon and Dr. David Legates. Actually, the thing is also on YouTube.

  8. Earl Killian says:

    Uosdwis, Willie Soon and David Legates are with the George C. Marshall Institute. Joining such an institution means they have as much credibility on climate as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does on the Holocaust.

  9. rjm says:

    Regarding Willie Soon and David Legates and other scientists that go against consensus science on global warming.

    are they simply liars? If they believed that the planet was on the verge of runaway warming, would they be sufficiently motivated by industry money to deny it – only to be confirmed fools in a few short years and for the rest of their lives? Would they be so willing to be completely ruined?

    No – they really don’t believe the consensus. They may be crazy, but they are sincere.

  10. Bob Wallace says:

    One wonders how many ‘deniers’ started out as honest skeptics (as did many of us), worked their way out on a limb, and now can find no way back?

    Changing positions would mean eating major crow and quite often in the case of people like this throwing away ones source of income.

    Bet lots of us, were to find ourselves in similar positions, would try to tough it out.

    Wouldn’t you love to listen to the conflict going on in their brains?

  11. Cyril R. says:

    De-torrified biomass (agrichar) can do a lot of the sequestration. Add in olivine sequestration (CCS maybe later, it’s not going to happen large scale before 2020 at least) and that’s pretty much a 100% emergency sequestration plan.

    Of course, it is common sense that this should not be used as an excuse to burn more fossil fuels. But it’s a useful emergency strategy, an affordable insurance (especially considering what’s at stake) we can buy right now.

  12. Dano says:

    You know when they recycle Willie Soon and his Proxy Sets of Doom, they are running out of ammo. That or it is the regularly scheduled recycling of long-ago refuted arguments.

    Best,

    D

  13. paulm says:

    How do we get data for the absorption of CO2 by the Oceans?
    Seems like a difficult thing to ascertain.

    We knew all along that recent CO2 figure were bad, only we didn’t want to face up to it.

    You see, we are addicted to the good life.

  14. Koen says:

    The report says we put out 10 petagrams of carbon in 2007.

    If we stick to metric units, and put 40000kg (is that 40 metric tons?) in a truck, which we estimate has a length of 20m (around 60 feet), then 10 petagrams of carbon translate into a line of trucks from here to the moon and back – and 6 trucks wide.

    How can we get rid of that? Looks like an awful amount to be buried any place.

  15. Earl Killian says:

    paulm asked, “How do we get data for the absorption of CO2 by the Oceans?

    How about measuring the pH? You’ll find the oceans have measurably acidified (0.1 pH so far)

  16. David B. Benson says:

    Vic — Neither water nor suitable land is a problem:

    http://jcwinnie.biz/wordpress/?p=2815

    I’m not thinking about intensively managed lands; so long as the biomass keeps growing it is (temporarily) sequestering carbon. One interesting possiblity is the ‘wall of trees’ that the countries of the Saheel want to plant to fend off the Sahara; there are almost no trees there now and they are talking tens of kilometers wide (maybe over one hundred km) by thousnads of kilometers long.

    Some may require an initial application of nitrogen fertilizer, but if woody perennials (trees) are grown, the nitrogen is mostly in the needles or leaves; leave that part in the woods. PK will end up being sequestered in the char, so some additions would be required; their is no shortage of potash, so this doesn’t appear to be a problem.

    rjm — My cost estimate is about $80 per tonne sequestered plus harvesting costs. This is using existing torrefication or pyrolysis units and costs should fall after some learning, mass production, etc. Harvesting costs are much higher in developed countries than in developing ones; the latter also have plenty of unused, but usable, lands.

    Cyril R. — Agrichar is one company’s commericial name for their biochar product.

    Koen — About two-thirds of the total comes from coal mines. Sequester in abandoned mines or in dedicated carbon landfills; there is lots of room, world-wide.

    I hope you will all help to talk this up. The first part is to start lots of plantings, such as the Sahel project I mentioned above.

  17. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a excellent, recent review about biochar:

    http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/node/578

  18. Earl Killian says:

    Here is an attempt to make the issue understandable to the general public:

    http://wakeupfreakout.org/film/tipping.html

  19. Robert says:

    Biomass sequestration sounds like a non-starter to me. Each year CO2 dips about 4ppm in Autumn, but then rises about 7ppm:

    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/

    This cycle is due to the biological capture of CO2 in the Nortthern Hemisphere Spring and its release in Autumn, plus the continual injection of fossil fuel and land use change CO2 by man.

    This means that (approximately) we would need to bury about half of all the biomass across the entire planet to get the graph to level off. Forget it!

  20. David B. Benson says:

    Robert — Obviously solutions other than biomass alone will be used. But I fear your analysis is flawed; you have not taken the carbon in the woody parts of the perennials, which survive from year to year into account. Sequestering that carbon, after the perenial has stopped growing much, still looks feasible to me.

    Anyway, here is a fine piece about why & how to stop burning coal:

    http://solveclimate.com/solutions/no-more-dirty-coal

    in the U.S.

  21. David B. Benson says:

    From

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomass

    tereestrial biomass is 1,873.42 billion tonnes of which about 30 billion would need to be sequestered each year. Thats 1.6% per year.

    In principle this is possible.

  22. Robert says:

    Can you imagine the amount of energy that would be required to harvest, process and sequester all that biomass? If fossil fuels were used to power the process would it even be carbon negative?

    It would be like coal mining in reverse. Far better just to stop coal mining.

    People need to face up to the fact that the whole foundation of our civilisation is flawed. It isn’t going to be fixed by some techno-tweek like EVs or biomass sequestration. Also it is impossible to evaluate and critique any of these techno-fixes because they can only exist in a sea of fossil fuel subsidy. The true picture will emergy only when fossil fuels are exhausted (or the EROEI is too low to make them usable), and at this point we will probably discover that the only kinds of sustainable energy are those perfected pre-industrial revolution. i.e. water mills, windmills, etc.

  23. David B. Benson says:

    Robert — I can’t imagine it, but I do have good estimates for the costs based on forestry operations. Obviously to be as carbon-negative as possible for the whole operation, use biodiesel insteadd of diesel, etc.

    It is the case that torrefied wood and charcoal (maybe other forms of biochar) can directly replace coal in existing coal reactors. When transportation costs are not too large, torrefied wood can certainly compete with coal today; South Carolina comes to mind. So to some extent, using modern rather than fossil carbon is possible. The problem is that the coal reacots tend to be congregated in but a few regions while growing biomass requires extensively spread-out operations. Much of the resulting biomass is then stranded by excessive transportation costs so it makes more sense to simply bury it there.

    I remind you that before the industrial revolution (indeed up until about 1960 CE), colliers burned charcoal in the woods for sale in town. I’m proposing doing much this again, with the addition of burying much of the product.

  24. shop says:

    It is the case that torrefied wood and charcoal (maybe other forms of biochar) can directly replace coal in existing coal reactors. When transportation costs are not too large, torrefied wood can certainly compete with coal today; South Carolina comes to mind. So to some extent, using modern rather than fossil carbon is possible. The problem is that the coal reacots tend to be congregated in but a few regions while growing biomass requires extensively spread-out operations. Much of the resulting biomass is then stranded by excessive transportation costs so it makes more sense to simply bury it there.