Monday, July 23, 2012

Good climate news, bad climate news

On the good news front, an excellent post from David Roberts on the amount of emissions the US has cut in recent years.  Go read.  Joe Romm has argued that we may have reached peak emissions in the US in 2007, this provides additional support.  New to me was that wind power is following the same downward price trend as solar, and may reach price parity with gas in this decade.

So enough with the good news.  Bad news is with global emissions generally, and China particularly:

Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) -- the main cause of global warming -- increased by 3% last year, reaching an all-time high of 34 billion tonnes in 2011. In China, the world's most populous country, average emissions of CO2 increased by 9% to 7.2 tonnes per capita. China is now within the range of 6 to 19 tonnes per capita emissions of the major industrialised countries. In the European Union, CO2 emissions dropped by 3% to 7.5 tonnes per capita. The United States remains one of the largest emitters of CO2, with 17.3 tones per capita, despite a decline due to the recession in 2008-2009, high oil prices and an increased share of natural gas.
I still wouldn't assign China the same level of blame as Europe - it's the total emissions per capita that matter, not the annual emissions.  China has also promised not to hit the US level of per capita emissions.  While China and India don't deserve the same level of blame as the developed democracies, they are on a very dangerous course for the entire world.


Aaron said...

Emissions per capita is a polite fiction left over from the days when we thought the Arctic Sea Ice would last until 2070. The sea ice will not last that long, so it is time to state the rude truth.

What counts is the global total emissions over a period of ~ 500 years. We get that wrong and our big cities drown.

Not just US cities, not just European cities, but also Asian and SE Asian cities. Those cites include our command and control centers, economic and finance centers, and goods production centers that serve the globe.

At this time, it does not matter who woke the dragon, or who poked it and made it mad, if we do not all instantly close ranks and fight with all our might, the dragon will eat us all.

Anonymous said...

You can't blame China for emitting more when they're busy trying to make your iPhone.

But part of the reason for the declining numbers in the US ( in Europe, Japan, Russia, and soon China too )
is economic decline ( satisfied? ) and part of that is aging societies.

In fact, the world will never have known such an older populated earth.

So, in addition to increasing longevity through warmth, and increasing crops through CO2,
carbon dioxide will also help soothe the joints of and increasingly arthritic population.

Get out and enjoy the warmth!


DaveE said...

I agree with Aaron but having said that, I think we must abandon fossil fuels now. If it took 50 million years to create our fossil fuels (probably much longer) and if we burn them all in 500 years (probably less) that means we are burning 100000 years worth of the Earth's production every year. Even without global warming, this would be profligacy on an unprecedented scale--when coupled with the unimaginable damage it is doing it becomes clear that we must stop now. We only depended on fossil fuels for the last few hundred years. They may have fueld the industrial revolution but we now have the means to move beyond them--we must do it.


Since Manchuria sits atop the Mother Of All Coal Measures , China's promise to stay below our per capita peak really doesn'y signify.

Brian said...

Fixing climate problems will require all our political might, but not so much economically. Several percent of GDP.

Re China's promises, I suppose someone can look at the growth curve for emissions per capita and do a little calculus. That might be interesting.

Paul S said...

According to the World Bank, China produced 7GtCO2 of emissions in 2008 compared to 3.7GtCO2 in 2002. That implies a growth rate of 11% per year.

US emissions at 2008 are 5.5GtCO2, having been steady at that level since 2002.

Assuming US emissions stay steady, assuming China's population is ~4x US population, and assuming China's emissions growth stays at the same rate, China will be producing higher per capita emissions by 2019/2020.

The question is whether or not China's emissions growth can be slowed. There are signs that this is happening.

Anonymous said...

"Emissions DOWnturn"
-- by Horatio Algeranon

Oil Embargoes
And Great Recessions
Help us all
To cut emissions.

We need a free-fall
In the DOW--
An endless DOWnturn --
And need it now!

Sou said...

It's not about 'assigning blame' for past emissions (no point in playing the blame game), it's about controlling future emissions.

If China equates to Europe in terms of per capita emissions it has to start reducing them.

On those figures, the USA has to work doubly hard to get per capita emissions down quickly. Australia also still has a very long way to show any global responsibility in this regard.

Thomas said...

Not only does China make our iPhones, they are also busy building up their infrastructure, and that takes a lot of energy and raw materials. That's something more mature industrialized countries have already done so it's no wonder if rapidly industrializing countries have higher emissions.

Anonymous said...

I have bit more bad news.

Dutch government agency (planbureau voor de Leefomgeving) has just stated that the Dutch can adapt to climate change. Which is of itself good news, but means Dutch government probably won't do a thing about carbon emission for the next 20 years.

The rapport can be found here

sadly only in dutch and among other things state that they expect sea level rise of 35 to 85 cm for the netherlands, but that doesn't include melting of ice on Greenland or Antartica. So hopefully Dutch scientist will respond and get reported on.


Anonymous said...

"it's the total emissions per capita that matter, not the annual emissions."

So if the world had three times as many people, but the total emissions were the same, then we would be much better off?

It seems to me it should just be the total emissions period and the total annual emissions is at least of measure of whether things are improving or not. The only thing that total emissions per capita does is allow countries that are spewing an inordinate amount into the atmosphere to feel better.


Jeffrey Davis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"The only thing that total emissions per capita does is allow countries that are spewing an inordinate amount into the atmosphere to feel better."

Except we Americans can't feel better no matter how we look at it (total or per capita), which means we have to rely on defense mechanisms like denial and projection (blame China and other developing countries) to make us feel good.


Chris Colose said...

What matters for the peak in global temperature is the cumalative emissions, and you can scale the peak response linearly as ~2 C per trillion tons of total carbon emitted, using a mid-range sensitivity.

Martin Vermeer said...


actually it does include Greenland and Antarctica: p. 47 says

"In deze schattingen is de uitzetting van het zeewater meegenomen, evenals de verandering van oceaanstromingen in de Atlantische Oceaan, het smelten van gletsjers en kleine ijskappen en het slinken van de grote ijskappen op Groenland en Antarctica (KNMI 2006;
Katsman et al. 2011a).

These estimates are not a whole lot below Schaeffer et al. (2012) (which are however global).

Anonymous said...

Chris Colose said...

"What matters for the peak in global temperature is the cumalative emissions, and you can scale the peak response linearly as ~2 C per trillion tons of total carbon emitted, using a mid-range sensitivity."

So, its resident CO2 not emitted CO2 that matters. What percentage of natural sequestration does the above assume?


Chris Colose said...


What matters for the radiation is the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. However, it has now become widely appreciated that carbon cycle feedbacks are positive, such that concentrations increase faster than linearly with emissions, which offsets the logarithmic dependence of radiative forcing on the CO2 concentration.

The ratio of of global warming to to cumulative anthropogenic emissions is thus relatively constant, but for reasons you allude to, it does depend on the model's airborne fraction of carbon (and climate sensitivity).

This linearity is not perfect or applicable over a very broad range of emissions, but seems to be a useful metric for policymakers in its ability to provide a concise metric for limiting global warming below a certain threshold.

Lewis C said...

Eli, with all of the discussion of per capita emissions, maybe it's time for a post on the global climate policy framework of Contraction & Convergence ? Having been launched at the UN in the early '90s, it's now coming of age - by forming the basis of the negotiating stance of governments representing more than half the global population. It proposes the allocation of (tradable) national emission rights, under an agreed annually contracting global emissions budget, with those allocations starting from present usage and converging to international per capita parity over an agreed period of years.

Global Commons Institute (the originator) has chapter and verse at I'd be interested to know your thoughts on it.

Re the US cutting its emissions as Dave Roberts has been claiming - I'm a bit puzzled. Media have been full of images of vast US wildfires, some evidently so hot that they're oxidizing the nitrogen in the trees (=279CO2e /TNOx IIRC) and just the sheer acreages burned are impressive. With about 43m acres dead or dying to bark beetles, plus additional drought-kill I calculate over 16GTs CO2 potential output, plus NOx, CH4, VHCs etc.

Given that there seems no will to fund the clearance of the dead effectively (say for carbon sequestration for biochar with methanol coproduct) most will likely burn, given a few years, as a matter of official choice. Meanwhile the beetles, like the droughts, continue their depradations unhindered. All of which surely makes a nonsense of any idea of US emissions declining ?

Just chewing a couple of tasty pellets you know - like us bunnies do . . .