Current Greenhouse Gas Emissions Shock Scientists

“Meanwhile, forests and oceans, which suck up carbon dioxide, are
doing so at lower rates, scientists said.”

“Richard Moss, vice president and managing director for climate
change at the World Wildlife Fund, said …”We should be worried —
really worried.”

“Things are happening very, very fast,” Le Quere told the Associated
Press. “It’s scary.”
Los Angeles Times
September 26, 2008

Greenhouse gas emissions shock scientists
Carbon dioxide output is rising rather than falling, despite efforts
to curb it. ‘It’s scary,’ one researcher says.

WASHINGTON – The world pumped up emissions of the chief
human-produced global warming gas last year, setting a course that
could push beyond leading scientists’ projected worst-case scenario,
international researchers said Thursday.

The new numbers, which some scientists called “scary,” were a
surprise because experts thought an economic downturn would slow
energy use. Instead, carbon dioxide output rose 3% from 2006 to 2007.

That amount exceeds the most dire outlook for emissions from burning
coal and oil and related activities as projected by a Nobel
Prize-winning group of international scientists in 2007.

Meanwhile, forests and oceans, which suck up carbon dioxide, are
doing so at lower rates, scientists said. If those trends continue,
the world will be on track for the highest predicted rises in
temperature and sea level.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that
an increase of between 3.2 and 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit could trigger
massive environmental changes, including melting of the Greenland ice
sheet, the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers and summer sea ice in the

Corinne Le Quere, professor of environmental sciences at the
University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey, said the
prediction that current emissions put the planet on track for a
temperature rise of more than 11 degrees means the world could face a
dangerous rise in sea level as well as other drastic changes.

Richard Moss, vice president and managing director for climate change
at the World Wildlife Fund, said the new carbon figures and research
showed that “we’re already locked into more warming than we thought.”

“We should be worried — really worried,” Moss told the Washington
Post. “This is happening in the context of trying to reduce

The new data also shows that forests and oceans, which naturally take
up much of the carbon dioxide humans emit, are having less impact.
These “natural sinks” have absorbed 54% of carbon dioxide emissions
released since 2000, a drop of 3 percentage points compared with the
period between 1959 and 2000.

The pollution leader was China, followed by the United States, which
past data show is the leader in emissions per person in carbon
dioxide output. And although several developed countries slightly
reduced output in 2007, the U.S. churned out more.

Still, it was large increases from China, India and other developing
countries that spurred the growth of carbon dioxide pollution to a
record high of 9.34 billion tons of carbon. Figures released by
science agencies in the U.S., Great Britain and Australia show that
China’s added emissions accounted for more than half of the worldwide
increase. China passed the U.S. as the No. 1 carbon dioxide polluter
in 2006.

Emissions in the U.S. rose nearly 2% in 2007, after declining the
previous year. The U.S. produced 1.75 billion tons of carbon.

“Things are happening very, very fast,” Le Quere told the Associated
Press. “It’s scary.”

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

“If we’re going to do something [about reducing emissions], it’s got
to be different than what we’re doing,” he said.

The emissions are based on data from oil giant BP PLC, which show
that China has become the major driver of world trends. China emitted
2 billion tons of carbon last year, up 7.5% from the previous year.

“We’re shipping jobs offshore from the U.S., but we’re also shipping
carbon dioxide emissions with them,” Marland said. “China is making
fertilizer and cement and steel, and all of those are heavy
energy-intensive industries.”

Developing countries not asked to reduce greenhouse gases by the 1997
Kyoto treaty — China and India are among them — now account for 53%
of carbon dioxide pollution. That group of nations surpassed
industrialized ones in carbon dioxide emissions in 2005, an analysis
of older figures shows.

India is in position to beat Russia for the No. 3 carbon dioxide
polluter behind the U.S., Marland said. Indonesia’s levels are
increasing rapidly.

Denmark’s emissions dropped 8%. The United Kingdom and Germany
reduced carbon dioxide pollution by 3%, while France and Australia
cut it by 2%.

But it remains unclear how much industrialized countries will be able
to reduce their carbon output in the years to come, regardless of
whether developing nations seek to restrain their greenhouse gas
emissions. The federal government predicts U.S. fossil fuel
consumption will increase. Japan, Canada and several other countries
that committed to reducing their carbon emissions under the 1997
Kyoto Protocol have fallen far behind in meeting their targets.

Moreover, new scientific research suggests the globe is already
destined for a greater worldwide temperature rise than predicted.
Last month, two scientists from the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography and UC San Diego published research showing that even if
humans stopped generating greenhouse gases immediately, the world’s
average temperature would “most likely” increase by 4.3 degrees
Fahrenheit by the end of this century.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of
Science, they based their calculations on the fact that new
air-quality measures worldwide are reducing the amount of fine
particles, or aerosols, in the atmosphere and diminishing their
cooling effect.

What is “kind of scary” is that the worldwide emissions growth is
beyond the highest growth in fossil fuel predicted just two years ago
by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said Benjamin
Santer, an atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National

Under the panel’s scenario then, temperatures would increase by
somewhere between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

If this trend continues for the century, we would be exceedingly
lucky “for it just to be bad, as opposed to catastrophic,” said
Stanford University climate scientist Stephen H. Schneider.

Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times


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