“We should be worried, really worried”
The rise in global carbon dioxide emissions last year outpaced international researchers’ most dire projections, according to figures being released today, as human-generated greenhouse gases continued to build up in the atmosphere despite international agreements and national policies aimed at curbing climate change.
In 2007, carbon released from burning fossil fuels and producing cement increased 2.9 percent over that released in 2006, to a total of 8.47 gigatons, or billions of metric tons, according to the Australia-based Global Carbon Project, an international consortium of scientists that tracks emissions. This output is at the very high end of scenarios outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and could translate into a global temperature rise of more than 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to the panel’s estimates.
“In a sense, it’s a reality check,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a professor at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia and a researcher with the British Antarctic Survey. “This is an extremely large number. The emissions are increasing at a rate that’s faster than what the IPCC has used.”
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Moreover, new scientific research suggests Earth is already destined for a greater worldwide temperature rise than previously predicted. Last month, two scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California at 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.
The IPCC has warned that an increase of between 3.2 and 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit could trigger massive environmental changes, including major melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers and summer sea ice in the Arctic. The prediction that current emissions put the planet on track for a temperature rise of more than 11 degrees Fahrenheit, Le Quéré said, 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 show that “we’re already locked into more warming than we thought.”
“We should be worried, really worried,” Moss said. “This is happening in the context of trying to reduce emissions.”
The new data also show that forests and oceans, which naturally take up much of carbon dioxide humans emit, are having less impact. These “natural sinks” have absorbed 54 percent of carbon dioxide emissions released since 2000, a drop of 3 percent compared with the period between 1959 and 2000.