Monday, May 21, 2007

More Evidence that Climate Change Is Worse Then The Models

Today, the Global Carbon Project released data on the emission of greenhouse gases a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. It found that the growth in these gases exceeds those used in the most recent the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)reports. Here is the Christian Science Monitor report:

Global emissions of carbon dioxide are growing at a faster clip than the highest rates used in recent key UN reports.

CO2 emissions from cars, factories, and power plants grew at an annual rate of 1.1 percent during the 1990s, according to the Global Carbon Project, which is a data clearinghouse set up in 2001 as a cooperative effort among UN-related groups and other scientific organizations. But from 2000 to 2004, CO2 emissions rates almost tripled to 3 percent a year – higher than any rate used in emissions scenarios for the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

If the higher rate represents more than a blip, stabilizing emissions by 2100 will be more difficult than the latest UN reports indicate, some analysts say. And to avoid the most serious effects of global warming, significant cuts in CO2 emissions must begin sooner than the IPCC reports suggest. At the moment, no region of the world is "decarbonizing its energy supply," the analysis says.

The Global Carbon Project's calculations should be viewed with caution, says Michael Oppenheimer, a climate-policy specialist at Princeton University in New Jersey. Economies have been recovering from a recession at the turn of the millennium. And a spike in natural-gas prices – of uncertain duration – has given coal a second wind in developed countries. These short-term factors have probably contributed to the growth in emissions rates, he says.

Yet longer-term forces may be at play to sustain the high emissions rates. For instance, "There is concern among many experts that factors such as China's continued, very rapid coal-based growth may not be a blip that would turn around," he says.

Read it all.

Among the more interesting aspects of this report is its discussion of the contribution of emissions from the developed world. While the vast majority of the emissions come from the industrialized nations, almost three quarters of the growth in emissions come from developing nations:

So far, developing countries account for only about 23 percent of emissions accumulated since the start of the Industrial Revolution. But they also account for 73 percent of the global emissions growth in 2004. This has been largely driven by China's explosive growth.

This supports the views of Larry Summers and others that a key to containing carbon emissions must be to support sustainable growth in the developing world. Part of the problem now is that countries such as India and China are relying on coal to meet energy needs. As the Scientific American reports:

Carbon intensity is going up because countries like China are relying on the cheapest and dirtiest of fossil fuels to power their growth. "Basically, their economy is growing on coal," Field notes. But according to the U.S. Department of Energy, pollution is on the rise in the U.S. and world energy use is expected to grow 57 percent by 2030, with coal being the fastest growing energy source.

Study lead author Michael Raupach, GCP co-chair and atmospheric physicist at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, says it will take economic, policy and social change to reverse the trend, such as capturing the CO2 emitted by coal-fired power plants and increased international cooperation.

This is particularly true as national governments continue to strive to enhance the economic well being of their populations. "In an era of rapidly increasing economic growth and increasing carbon emissions you can't assume that we're going to continue to see improvement in carbon intensity," Field says. "We have to figure out some way to get the carbon intensity of the energy system to go down."

Fields argues the burden rests with countries like the U.S. that have the resources and technological know-how to undertake solutions, such as carbon capture and storage, which will be needed quickly. "We have to try harder to control global warming," Raupach adds. "The final judge of our efforts is the global atmosphere and its judgment at present is harsh."

Read it all.

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