With CO2 now being declared a danger to human health by the US EPA , its significant threat as a greenhouse gas is given added importance as the leading cause of climate change and rising temperatures on the planet. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, gas, & oil) has increased by around 40% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. As the level increases in the atmosphere and the oceans, we're getting further away from the solution. How much we can safely emit is in conflict with how very much more we produce - especially in North America. It's a problem that will be with us, and we need to understand why it's planet Earth's greatest threat. The planet will survive somehow, but will humanity? 

The lifetime in the air of CO2, the most significant man-made greenhouse gas, is probably the most difficult to determine, because there are several processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Between 65% and 80% of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20–200 years. The rest is removed by slower processes that take up to several hundreds of thousands of years, including chemical weathering and rock formation. This means that once in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can continue to affect climate for thousands of years. link

March 18 2014: 400ppm reached earlier this year.  In 2013 atmospheric CO2 briefly crossed 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. However, it didn’t cross that threshold until mid-May. This year’s first 400 ppm reading came a full two months earlier this past week and the seeming inexorable upward march is likely to race past another milestone next month. “We’re already seeing values over 400. Probably we’ll see values dwelling over 400 in April and May. It’s just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever,” said Ralph Keeling, Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 and O2 measurement programs at Scripps - link

Carbon dioxide levels varied between about 180 and 300 parts per million during the 650,000 years prior to industrialization as recorded in air bubbles trapped in ice in Antarctica. But since industrialization began in the 18th century, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from about 280 to 390ppm. a rise of about 40%. Globally each year, the land and atmosphere exchanges about 120bn tonnes of carbon, while the oceans and atmosphere transfer about 90bn tonnes of carbon between them. In general this natural carbon cycle is more or less in equilibrium, such that there is no significant net change in the amount of carbon absorbed in the atmosphere, oceans and land. But we also know that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, producing cement and destroying rainforests, have disturbed the natural equilibrium of the carbon cycle by emitting an additional 7bn tonnes each year. The land and oceans absorb about 45% of this, but the remainder stays in the atmosphere and leads to the annual increases in concentration which have been recorded in the measurements from Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and elsewhere around the world. While the volume of carbon dioxide that is exchanged between natural sources and sinks looks a lot larger, there really is no dispute over human responsibility for the 40% rise in concentrations in the atmosphere. link

Hydrofluorocarbons  HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases, and their production is rising by 15% per year.Black Carbon -Recent studies show that black carbon - microscopic airborne particles commonly known as soot - is also factor in global warming, especially in the Arctic.

Latest news:

March 13 2015: The growth in global carbon emissions stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years that annual CO2 emissions growth has remained stable, in the absence of a major economic crisis. Annual global emissions remained at 32 gigatonnes in 2014, unchanged from the previous year. But the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that while the results were "encouraging", this was "no time for complacency". link



  • General information
  • How much CO2 are we emitting
  • USA information
  • EPA timeline on controlling GHG emissions
  • CO2 levels rising too sharply
  • Geo-engineering & controlling CO2

Carbon tax. How would a carbon tax be implemented – an introduction

General information

       Total estimated U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 consisted of:
       5,446.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide - 82.8% of total emissions
million metric tons of methane - 11.1% of total emissions
million metric tons of nitrous oxide - 3.3% of total emissions
million metric tons of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and               sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) - 2.7% of total emissions  (link) 

Power-generating stations worldwide release 12 billion tons of CO2 every year as they burn coal, oil or natural gas; home and commercial heating plants release another 11 billion tons. link 

The combustion of fossil fuels. such as gasoline and diesel to transport people and goods is the second largest source of CO2 emissions, accounting for about 31% of total U.S. CO2 emissions and 26% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. This category includes transportation sources such as highway vehicles, air travel, marine transportation, and rail. link

Interactive climate map and sea-level rise. The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) is a Science and Technology Center established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2005, with the mission of developing new technologies and computer models to measure and predict the response of sea level change to the mass balance of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. This map shows eight areas around the world, and how they would suffer from rises between 1 and 6 meters. (map)

January 2011: Carbon Atlas Map. This interactive emissions map shows how the rest of the world compares. New statistics for 2009 show US emissions fell substantially in 2009, to levels not seen since 1995-96, while China surged ahead with an increase of more than 13% on the previous year. Europe, Russia, Canada and South Africa saw their emissions dip, and India has risen to third place. Overall, by these estimates, global emissions fell by a tiny 0.1%. For short periods in the wake of less severe recessions, such as those in 1981-83, and 1991-92, emissions fell more steeply only to continue their upward trend shortly afterwards. link - (2010 figures will take a few months before release.)

Science Daily reports (February 2011) that new research shows that even if all greenhouse gas emissions were stopped now, temperatures would remain higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels because the greenhouse gases already emitted are likely to persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years. There would continue to be warming even if the most stringent policy proposals were adopted, because there still would be some emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. 

December 2014: Carbon Dioxide warming effects felt much earlier than previously thought. It takes just ten years for a single emission of CO2 to have its maximum warming effect on the Earth, much earlier than several decades, an earlier misconception. However some of the bigger climate impacts from warming, such as sea-level rise, will have a much bigger time- lag.  link

November 2010: Studies show CO2 caused global warming 40 million years ago. New studies show that during the Middle Eocene period temperatures were much higher than today and the warming was accompanied by a doubling in atmospheric CO2 levels. This is the first direct evidence supporting the idea that a recently discovered period of global warming was caused by CO2. link  What caused the rise in CO2 is unknown, though one suggestion is the disappearance of an ocean between India and Asia as the Himalayas rose. 

July 2010: Exploring global movement of CO2.  A NASA-led research team has expanded the growing global armada of remote sensing satellites capable of studying carbon dioxide. Measurements in the region of the atmosphere where CO2 gets transported around the globe are also key to understanding carbon dioxide sources and sinks. link

European countries exceed Kyoto targets.   
November 2009:
A report by the European Environment Agency shows that the EU and all Member States but one [Austria] are on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Whereas the Protocol requires that the EU-15 reduce average emissions during 2008-2010 to 8% below 1990 levels, the latest projections indicate that the EU-15 will go further, reaching a total reduction of more than 13% below the base year. Looking further ahead, almost three quarters of the EU’s unilateral target to cut emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 could be achieved domestically (i.e. without purchase of credits outside the EU).  link

Weekly CO2 readings from Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
Week beginning May 18 2014: 401.73, up from 399.88 a year ago.  link

In the last 100,000 years prior to the industrial age, global CO2 levels increased by around 1.5 parts per million. In the last 12 months they have risen by 2.29 ppm. The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth - 350.org  

NB: 1 ton - 2,240 lbs   1 tonne (metric) = 1000 kilos or 2200 lbs

The United States burns through 19.5 million barrels of oil a day, 
25% of the world's consumption, more than China, Japan, India and Russia combined. 
That's 2.7 gallons a day for every man, woman and child. 
Also we burn over one billion tons of coal each year
These are the major causes of CO2 emissions.


Fossil fuels’ hidden cost is in billions, study says:
October 2009: Burning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion a year in health costs, mostly because of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution according to a study released by the National Academy of Sciences.
The damages are caused almost equally by coal and oil.  The study ordered by Congress set out to measure the costs not incorporated into the price of a kilowatt-hour or a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel. The estimates by the academy do not include damages from global warming, which has been linked to the gases from burning fossil fuels link  (This averages to $400 per person in the USA annually.) The study also excludes damage from burning oil for trains, ships and planes and the environmental damage from coal mining or the pollution of rivers with chemicals that were filtered from coal plant smokestacks to keep the air clean.  Read the study here.

May 2009: Climate change odds much worse than thought  A new MIT study suggests the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago - and could be even worse than that. The new projections, published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate, indicate a median probability of surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, with a 90% probability range of 3.5 to 7.4 degrees. This can be compared to a median projected increase in the 2003 study of just 2.4 degrees. link

How much CO2 are we emitting? 

April 2013: Symbolic 400 ppm reached.  llnk

September 2014: Greenhouse gas levels rising at fastest rate since 1984. A surge in atmospheric CO2 saw levels of greenhouse gases reach record levels in 2013, according to new figures. Atmospheric CO2 is now at 142% of the levels in 1750, before the start of the industrial revolution. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 2012 and 2013 grew at their fastest rate since 1984. About half of all emissions are taken up by the seas, trees and living things. According to the bulletin, the globally averaged amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 396 parts per million (ppm) in 2013, an increase of almost 3ppm over the previous year. "The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years," said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the WMO. link

October 2013: Emissions reach new high, but signs of a slowdown. Global emissions of CO2 may be showing the first signs of a "permanent slowdown" in the rate of increase. The rate of increase in CO2 was 1.4%, despite the global economy growing by 3.5%. Key factors included the shift to shale gas for energy in the US while China increased its use of hydropower by 23%. It finds that emissions of CO2 reached a new record in 2012 of 34.5bn tonnes. link

Should we halt CO2 emissions altogether? If CO2 emissions came to a sudden halt, the carbon dioxide already in Earth's atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years, according to a Princeton University-led study. The study suggested it might take a lot less carbon than previously thought to reach the global temperature scientists deem unsafe. The researchers simulated an Earth on which, after 1,800 billion tons of carbon entered the atmosphere, all CO2 emissions suddenly stopped. Scientists commonly use the scenario of emissions screeching to a stop to gauge the heat-trapping staying power of CO2. Within a millennium of this simulated shutoff, the carbon itself faded steadily with 40% absorbed by Earth's oceans and landmasses within 20 years and 80% soaked up at the end of the 1,000 years. By itself, such a decrease of atmospheric CO2 should lead to cooling. But the heat trapped by the CO2 took a divergent track. After a century of cooling, the planet warmed by 0.37 degrees Celsius (0.66 Fahrenheit) during the next 400 years as the ocean absorbed less and less heat. While the resulting temperature spike seems slight, a little heat goes a long way here. Earth has warmed by only 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global temperatures a mere 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than pre-industrial levels would dangerously interfere with the climate system. To avoid that point would mean humans have to keep cumulative CO2 emissions below 1,000 billion tons of carbon, about half of which has already been put into the atmosphere since the dawn of industry. link

October 2014: Ditch the 2C warming goal. The 2C target has been repeated like a mantra, mentioned thousands of times in newspaper articles.But two academics in the prestigious journal Nature, argue that the 2C target has outlived its usefulness. They say it should be abandoned and replaced with a series of measures, “vital signs”, of the planet’s health. Under the headline, “Ditch the 2C warming goal”, they argue the 2C limit is “politically and scientifically ... wrong-headed”, it is “effectively unachievable” and it has let politicians off the hook, allowing them to “pretend that they are organising for action when, in fact, most have done little.” But as new numbers show global CO2 emissions at record levels and on an ever-upward trend hat puts the world on course for temperatures well above 2C, researches Victor and Kennel argue 2C is effectively unachievable. link

October 2013: EU on track to reach 2020 emission reductions. According to the European Environment Agency, the European Union is already close to its 2020 climate objectives as it has decreased its emissions by no less than 18% between 1990 and 2012. Additionally, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and many others were already accounting for 13%t of the energy mix in 2011. link

December 2012: CO2 emissions increased over last decade. It is increasingly unlikely that global warming will be kept below an increase of 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels, a study suggests. Data show that global CO2 emissions in 2012 hit 35.6bn tonnes, a 2.6% increase from 2011 and 58% above 1990 levels. The researchers' paper says the average increases in global CO2 levels were 1.9% in the 1980s, 1.0% in the 1990 but 3.1% since 2000.  link

March 2013: US scientists report big jump in heat-trapping CO2. The amount of heat-trapping CO2 in the air jumped dramatically in 2012, making it very unlikely that global warming can be limited to another 2 degrees as many global leaders have hoped, new federal figures show. Scientists say the rise in CO2 reflects the world's economy revving up and burning more fossil fuels, especially in China. CO2 levels jumped by 2.67 parts per million since 2011 to total just under 395 parts per million. That's the second highest rise in carbon emissions since record-keeping began in 1959. More coal-burning power plants, especially in the developing world, are the main reason emissions keep going up, even as they have declined in the U.S. and other places.  link  

The Earth requires CO2 in the atmosphere to permit life to exist. For the planet's population, 2 tons per person per year has been an accepted figure for some years - that translates to 13.6 billion tonnes globally, so we are already exceeding that number twofold.  link  

October 2012: US researchers map carbon emissions at street level. US scientists have developed new software that can accurately measure greenhouse gas emissions down to individual buildings and streets. Researchers believe it could help identify the most effective places to cut emissions and aid international efforts to verify reductions in carbon. link

October 2011: 47 billion tonnes of CO2 released in 2010.  A report, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggests that for a "likely" chance (more than 66%) of holding warming below 2C by the end of this century, emissions must peak before 2020. Scientists have warned that a lack of international will means the chances of bringing climate change under control are “slipping out of reach”. Emission levels will also have to drop  to around 44 billion tonnes in 2020, and then keep falling. By 2050, they will need to be well below 1990 levels at around 20 billion tonnes, says the research. This is an ambitious goal. In 2010 emission levels were estimated to be 48 billion tonnes. If no action is taken to reduce global emissions, experts fear they could grow to 56 billion tonnes in 2020. (see page 2 - link)

November 2011: IEA warns that  time is running out to limit earth's warming. The International Energy Agency warned today that the world is hurtling toward irreversible climate change and will lose the chance to limit warming if it doesn’t take bold action in the next five years. The agency’s chief economist said this week that he’s not optimistic that leaders are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, saying  “We are going in the wrong direction in terms of climate change.".  link 

October 2009: A new historical record of CO2 levels suggests current political targets on climate may be "playing with fire" scientists say. Researchers used ocean sediments to plot CO2 levels back to the Miocene period which began a little over 20 million years ago. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere stood at about 400 parts per million (ppm) before beginning to decline about 14 million years ago - a trend that eventually led to formation of the Antarctic icecap and perennial sea ice cover in the Arctic. In the intervening millennia, CO2 concentrations have been much lower; in the last few million years they cycled between 180ppm and 280ppm in rhythm with the sequence of ice ages and warmer interglacial periods. Now, humanity's emissions of greenhouse gases are pushing towards the 400ppm range, which will very likely be reached within a decade. "What we have shown is that in the last period when CO2 levels were sustained at levels close to where they are today, there was no icecap on Antarctica and sea levels were 25-40m (80-130ft) higher," said research leader Aradhna Tripati from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). link  

USA information

US climate agency declares CO2 public danger.  link

May 2014: U.S. emission on the rise after 5-year decline. The rise in CO2 emissions marks the end of a five-year period from January 2008 through December 2012 in which the nation's greenhouse gas emissions fell, and it looks as though a rise in emissions from coal and natural gas are to blame. The Energy Information Administration (EIA), reports that carbon emissions in 2013 were up by around 2.4% over 2012, and that the first two months of 2014 saw emissions around 7.45% higher than for the same period in 2013. link

NEW:  (May 2013) To check state by state US greenhouse gas emissions  - and per capita by state - view here

In the USA we produce close to 20 tons per person primarily through an energy inefficient lifestyle. A French report in 2006 deemed that humanity must freeze its annual carbon emissions at four billion tons (to maintain a 450 ppm goal) or 0.6 tons for each of the planet's 6.8 billion people, much less than the 2 tons figure. In the USA, therefore, we are either producing 10x too much (according to earlier estimates) or 30x too much (based on the French report). Either way our carbon footprint is causing a serious threat. We can emit some CO2 - its okay - we just produce too much. For all of human history until about 200 years ago, our atmosphere contained 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide; without some CO2 and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in our atmosphere, our planet would be too cold for humans to inhabit.

Globally, power generation emits nearly 10 billion tons of CO2 per year. The 8,000 power plants in the US spew more than 25% of that -  roughly 2.8 billion tons per year. See the worst dozen power plants in the USA here.

September 2013: Study paints a bulls-eye on the nation’s biggest coal-fired power plants. A new study by Environment America suggests that reining in a handful of America's coal-fired power plants would have a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions. The "50 dirtiest" power plants generated nearly 33% of the US power sector's CO2 emissions in 2011 but only about 16% of its electricity. US power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the country, responsible for 41% of the nation’s CO2 pollution. The top CO2-emitting power plant in the US – Power Plant Scherer in Juliette, Ga. – produced more than 21 million metric tons of CO2 in 2011, a greater total than all of Maine. Ninety-eight of the nation’s 100 most-polluting power plants in terms of total CO2 emissions are coal plants, the study found. link

Two years of change:

(April 2014) U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell nearly 10% from 2005 to 2012, more than halfway toward the United States' 2020 target pledged at UN climate talks, according to the latest national emissions inventory. link

February 2011: CO2 emissions in U.S. rise. CO2 emissions from US power plants climbed 5.6% in 2010 over the previous year, the biggest annual increase since the EPA began tracking emissions in 1995. Texas power plants led the pack emitting nearly 257 million tons of CO2, as much as the next two states, Florida and Ohio, combined. link Electricity generators spewed 2.423 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, compared with 2.295 billion tons in 2009. Coal-fired power plants provided 45% of the country’s electricity in 2010, but were responsible for 81% of total CO2 emissions from electricity generation last year.
August 2012: CO2 emissions in U.S. drop to 20-year low. In a surprising turnaround, the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal. Many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. link

January 2012: EPA publishes first greenhouse gas emissions data from large U.S sources. Power plants were the largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the 2010 calendar year, followed by petroleum refineries, according to greenhouse gas emissions data reported to the U.S. EPA by large facilities and suppliers across the country, published for the first time today. Carbon dioxide accounted for the largest share of direct greenhouse gas emissions with 95% followed by methane with four percent, and nitrous oxide and several fluorinated gases accounting for the remaining one percent.

June  2012: Court upholds EPA right to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Former EPA Administrator, Carol Browner sad, “The Court’s decision should put an end, once and for all, to any questions about the EPA’s legal authority to protect us from industrial carbon pollution through the Clean Air Act. This decision is a devastating blow to those who challenge the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and deny its impact on public health and welfare.” link

Where climate change will hit hardest in USA. In 1990, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were 354 parts per million (ppm) and increased at a rate of 1.3 ppm per year until reaching a level of 367 ppm in 2000. Between 2000 and today, carbon dioxide concentrations increased at a rate of 2.44 ppm per year until the current level of 392.94ppm (May 2010). If emissions continue at that current rate, carbon dioxide concentrations will exceed 600 ppm by the end of the century. Analyzing data from global climate models compiled for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, The Nature Conservancy found that over the next 100 years states across the USA could experience average annual temperature increases ranging from nearly 3F to more than 10F. Using the latest scientific data and climate models with geographic information systems (GIS), statistical analysis and web-based mapping services, the Nature Conservancy worked with a wide range of organizations to bring Climate Wizard which represents the first time ever that the full range of climate history and future projections for specific landscapes and time frames have been brought together in a user-friendly format that is available to a mass audience.  link   

EPA timeline on controlling GHG emissions:

August 2011: President Obama delays implementation until 2013The EPA estimated a new smog standard would cost up to $90bn a year - opponents said it would cost more. The rules could also have saved as much as $100bn in health costs, and helped prevent as many as 12,000 premature deaths from heart and lung complications, according to the EPA. link

In May 2010, the EPA announced long-awaited final rules on Greenhouse gases (GHG). The rules anticipate facilities responsible for 70% of the GHGs from stationary sources get permits to operate and show they are using green technology to reduce emissions. The EPA’s phased-in approach was to begin in January 2011, when permitting requirements for GHGs under the Clean Air Act will kick-in for large facilities that are already obtaining permits for other pollutants. These will be required to include GHGs in their permits if they increase these emissions by at least 75,000 tonnes per year (tpy). Then, in July 2011 these requirements will be expanded to cover all new facilities with GHG emissions of at least 100,000 tpy. link   In June 2011, a further delay was announced. link   From the date of the EPA's first proposals in April 2010, manufacturers raised objections, saying that the agency's standards were not based on adequate information, were confusing, and were not technically achievable. In response to the April 2010 proposals, the agency received more than 4,800 comments from businesses and communities, including information that EPA said industry had not provided prior to the proposals. Based on this input, EPA made extensive revisions to the standards, and in December 2010 asked a federal district court for additional time for review to ensure the public's input was fully addressed. The court granted EPA only 30 days and the final rules were issued in February 2011.              

In February 2011, the EPA established Clean Air Act emissions standards for large and small boilers and incinerators that burn solid waste and sewage sludge. The standards cover more than 200,000 boilers and incinerators that emit air pollutants, including mercury, cadmium, dioxins and particle pollution. May 2011 they issued a stay postponing the effective date of emissions standards for major source boilers and commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators. Because the original boiler rule was vacated, there is no rule currently in place. The final rules, published on March 21, 2011, called for an effective date of May 20, 2011 with compliance deadlines beginning three years later. link

May 2010: First time action to regulate truck emissions. Currently trucks consume more than two million barrels of oil a day, and average just 6.1 mpg. They emit 20% of the greenhouse gas pollution related to transportation. President Obama estimates that "we can increase fuel economy by as much as 25% in tractor trailers using technologies that already exist today." Obama directed federal officials work with the State of California to develop by September 1, 2010, a technical assessment to inform the rulemaking process. California already has a low carbon vehicles law on the books.The aim is to have a final rule in place by July 30, 2011. link

September 2009: Nation's first vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards announced.  The Obama administration opened a new era in U.S. automotive history by proposing greenhouse gas emissions for vehicles. The emissions standards would be paired with stronger vehicle fuel efficiency standards in a coordinated national program to address climate change and energy security. This is EPA's first action to curb greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, using the authority upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA.  link   [China’s fuel economy standard for passenger cars is equivalent to 36.7 miles per gallon, and China is reportedly considering raising this to 42.2 mpg. The U.S. standard remained at 27.5 mpg for 20 years until President Obama recently announced a new standard in May of 35.5 mpg by 2016.]

CO2 levels rising too sharply

The Kyoto Protocol, which industrialized nations other than the United States have agreed to adhere to, aims to reduce emissions in those countries 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. If we are to have a good chance of achieving that target, the concentration of CO2 must not be allowed to exceed 450 parts per million. To hold the average global temperature rise below   2C relative to its pre-industrial level implies that before 2050 global emissions of CO2 must be reduced to below 50% of the 1990 level (they are currently 10% above that level) link and on current trends could reach 550 ppm by 2035. [The Earth has warmed 0.85C from 1880 (preindustrial times) to 2012, according to the latest report from the IPCC. link]

July 2014: Limiting warming to 2C will require deep investment. Scientists maintain that limiting global warming to 2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels is still achievable. just barely, but will require an international multi-billion dollar commitment to research, development, demonstration, and diffusion of low-carbon technology. The world lacks not only the will, but the technology to achieve the deep carbon cuts needed to avert catastrophic climate change, according to a report presented to the U.N. by leading research institutions in 15 countries. Involving scientists from 30 institutions in 15 countries that together account for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the report is the first global cooperative effort to identify practical pathways to achieving a low-carbon economy. Nations also need to commit to investment in the scientific research that will be needed to carry out any of those pledges. link

The increase in emissions out-paces even the worst-case scenarios published by scientists affiliated with the U.N. The Paris based International Energy Agency (IEA) declared November 7, 2007 that emissions of greenhouse gases will rise by 57% by 2030 compared to current levels, leading to a rise in Earth's surface temperature of at least three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Emissions falling in Europe.

May 2013: CO2 emissions in EU fall again in 2012. The data agency for the European Commission said CO2 emissions in the EU fell an estimated 2.1% in 2012 compared with 2011. The largest decreases were in Belgium, Finland, and Sweden. (CO2 emissions in 2011 were estimated to have dropped 4.1% compared to 2010.) Emissions decreased in nearly all 27 member states, except Malta (plus 6.3%), the United Kingdom (plus 3.9%) Lithuania (plus 1.7%) and Germany (plus 0.9%). link

January 2013: China and Australia top list of “carbon bomb” projects. A Greenpeace report states that 14 "carbon bomb" projects around the world will increase global emissions by 20%. The analysis suggests that there is a 75% chance of keeping emissions below the 2C target if all 14 projects, which are at varying stages of planning and approval,are cancelled, with emissions peaking in 2015 before falling by 5% annually. "If these projects aren't wound back, we're looking at an extra 300bn tonnes of CO2 by 2050, which will make it very difficult to meet the 2C target," said Georgina Woods, lead campaigner for Greenpeace Australia. link

December 2012: World on track for 5 Celsius rise by 2100. Levels of atmospheric CO2 are rising annually by around 3%, placing Earth on track for warming that could breach 5C (9.0 degrees F) by 2100, according to a new study. The figure, among the most alarming of the latest forecasts by climate scientists, is at least double the 2C (3.6F) target set by UN members struggling for a global deal on climate change. In 2011, global carbon emissions were 54%  above 1990 levels, according to the research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change by the Global Carbon Project consortium. "We are on track for the highest emissions projections, which point to a rise in temperature of between 4C (7.2F) and 6C (10.8F) by the end of the century," said Corinne le Quere, a carbon specialist at the University of East Anglia, eastern England. link

September 2011: Global emissions of CO2 increased by 45% between 1990 and 2010, and reached an all-time high of 33 billion tons in 2010. Increased energy efficiency, nuclear energy and the growing contribution of renewable energy are not compensating for the globally increasing demand for power and transport, which is strongest in developing countries. Over the period 1990-2010, in the European Union and Russia CO2 emissions decreased by 7% and 28% respectively, while the USA’s emissions increased by 5% and the Japanese emissions remained more or less constant. There was a 5.8% increase in global CO2 emissions between 2009 and 2010 following a 1% decline in 2009. At present, the USA emits 16.9 tons CO2 per capita per year, over twice as much as Europe with 8.1 tons. By comparison, Chinese per capita CO2 emissions of 6.8 tons are still below the Europe average, but now equal those of Italy. It should be noted that the average figures for China and Europe hide significant regional differences. link  

May 2011: Worst ever carbon emissions in 2010 leave climate on the brink. link
November 2010: Global CO2 emissions drop by 1.3% to 30.8 billions tons in 2009.  link

September 2009: 4C rise now unavoidable: In a dramatic acceleration of forecasts for global warming, UK scientists say the global average temperature could rise by 4C (7.2F) as early as 2060.  link

Geo-engineering & controlling CO2

New research says engineering climate could have serious side-effects. (January 2014) The controversial idea of geoengineering, deliberately changing the Earth's climate, is being seriously discussed as a last-ditch way of avoiding dangerous global warming if efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions fail. But new work shows that a leading contender – pumping sulphate particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight – could have side-effects just as serious as the effects of warming itself. link

November 2014: Geo-engineering could harm billions. Schemes to tackle climate change could prove disastrous for billions of people, but might be required for the good of the planet, scientists say. This is the so far unproven science of intervening in the climate to bring down temperatures. These projects work by, for example, shading the Earth from the Sun or soaking up CO2. Long regarded as the most bizarre of all solutions for global warming, ideas for geo-engineering have come in for more scrutiny in recent years as international efforts to limit carbon emissions have failed. Dr. Matt Watson of Bristol University said, "Personally I find this stuff terrifying but we have to compare it to doing nothing, to business-as-usual leading us to a world with a 4C rise." link

A forest of 100,000 "artificial trees" could be deployed within 10 to 20 years to help soak up the world's carbon emissions. The trees are among three geo-engineering ideas highlighted as practical in a new report.  The team studied hundreds of different options but have put forward just three as being practical and feasible using current technology. The authors of this report say that geo-engineering of the type they propose should be used on a short-term basis to buy the world time, but in the long term it is vital to reduce emissions. They define two types of geo-engineering. The first category attempts to cool the planet by reflecting some of the sunlight away. The problem with this is that it just masks the problem. The other type of geo-engineering is to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it.  link  (Scientists at Columbia University believe that carbon-mopping machines modeled after trees could sequester enough carbon from the atmosphere to slow global warming. But can we produce them quickly (and cheaply) enough for the plan to work? link)
August 2010: All-out geo-engineering would not stop sea level rise.  Extensive geo-engineering seems impractical given its economic and environmental cost. But interfering with the planet’s carbon cycles, something we’re already doing by adding so much CO2 to the atmosphere, appears to be the better bet, even if only by curbing current CO2 emissions. Otherwise, we’re leaving our descendants one heck of a mess or, as the authors put it, “substituting geo-engineering for greenhouse gas emission abatement or removal constitutes a conscious risk transfer to future generations.” link

Significance of the Montreal Protocol:
The protocoal entered into force on January 1 1989 to prevent depletion of the ozone layer
. A 2007 study concluded it may have delayed global warming by seven-twelve years. link     (December 2013)  Global warming may have been twice as bad had it not been for this successful international agreement. A proposal is now on the table to rejigger the treaty in a way that could help us still more in slowing the rate of climate change. link  

June 2010: Positive use of CO2. A
t algae-to-biofuel facilities across the nation, carbon dioxide is not only not the enemy, it's an essential partner to helping achieve a low-carbon future. CO2
- along with sunlight and water - is needed to grow algae, which can in turn produce oil, otherwise known as “oilgae” or “green crude.” Using CO2 as a catalyst to grow algae is a more viable solution for what to do with the plentiful gas than, for example, sequestering and burying it underground, according to those in the industry. “Putting it underground will not create a market. Finding a way of turning [CO2] into something that can provide value will,” Tim Zenk, said vice president of corporate affairs at Sapphire Energy. link

January 2012: New material for removing CO2 announced.Scientists are reporting discovery of an improved way to remove carbon dioxide from smokestacks and other sources, including the atmosphere. Their report on the process, which achieves some of the highest CO2 removal capacity ever reported for real-world conditions where the air contains moisture, appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Existing methods for removing CO2 from smokestacks and other sources, including the atmosphere, are energy intensive, don't work well and have other drawbacks. In an effort to overcome such obstacles, the group turned to solid materials based on polyethylenimine, a readily available and inexpensive polymeric material. . link

World's Wetlands  - A "Carbon Bomb"

The world's wetlands, threatened by development, dehydration and climate change, could release a planet-warming "carbon bomb" if they are destroyed: Wetlands contain 771 billion tons of greenhouse gases, one-fifth of all the carbon on Earth and about the same amount of carbon as is now in the atmosphere, the scientists said before an international conference linking wetlands and global warming. See wetlands page for more details.

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