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Growth Rate of Concentration of Atmospheric CO2 Accelerating

Pnas_budget
Perturbation of the global carbon budget, 1959-2006. Click to enlarge. Source: Global Carbon Project.

An international team of scientists has found that the annual rate of increase of the concentration of atmospheric CO2 has accelerated since 2000 to an average 1.93 ppm per year—an average annual rate 28% higher than that of the 1990s.

Lead author of the study and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, CSIRO’s Dr Pep Canadell, says that the acceleration is due to three factors: global economic growth; the world’s economy becoming more carbon intense (that is, since 2000 more carbon is being emitted to produce each dollar of global wealth); and a deterioration in the land and oceans’ ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere at the required rate.

Between 2000 to 2006, human activities such as burning fossil fuels, manufacturing cement, and tropical deforestation contributed a net average of 4.1 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year, yielding an annual growth rate for atmospheric carbon dioxide of 1.93 parts per million (ppm)—the highest since the beginning of continuous monitoring in 1959, according to the report.

By contrast, the growth rate in the 1970s was 1.3 ppm y-1; in the 1980s, 1.6 ppm y-1; and in the 1990s, 1.5 ppm y-1. The present atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is 381 ppm, 35% above pre-industrial levels, the highest concentration in the last 650,000 years, and probably in the last 20 million years.

The study attributed 65% of the current acceleration to increased activity of the global economy.  The study found that deterioration of the carbon intensity of the global economy—i.e., the increasing inefficiency in the use of fossil fuels—accounted for another 17% of the increase, while the other 18% came from the decline in the efficiency of natural land and ocean sinks which soak up CO2 from the atmosphere.

While the worldwide acceleration in carbon dioxide emissions had been previously noted, this new study highlights the role of the weakening of land and oceans sinks. For example, the Southern Ocean winds have increased in response to greenhouse gases and ozone depletion. The increase in winds has led to a release of natural CO2 stored in the deep ocean, which is preventing further absorption of the greenhouse gas.  (Earlier post.)

In addition to the study showing the decline in the uptake in the Southern Ocean, new research indicates that uptake in the North Atlantic has halved over the last decade.  (Earlier post.) On land, where plant growth is the major mechanism for drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, large droughts have reduced the uptake of carbon.

Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels constituted the largest source of anthropogenic carbon, releasing an average of 7.6 billion metric tons each year between 2000 and 2006, a significant jump from 6.5 billion tons in the 1990s. Emissions generated by land-use changes such as deforestation have remained constant, but shifted in geographic focus.

The study also shows that the carbon intensity of the global economy (kilograms of carbon per dollar of economic activity) has increased since 2000 at about 0.3% per year, reversing a 30-year decline of about 1.3% per year. Because practically all proposed scenarios for managing future emissions postulate improvements in carbon intensity in the global economy, this deterioration of carbon intensity presents a serious challenge in stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide and mitigating climate change.

The research by the Global Carbon Project, the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

What we are seeing is a decrease in the planet’s ability to absorb carbon emissions due to human activity. Fifty years ago, for every tonne of CO2 emitted, 600kg were removed by land and ocean sinks. However, in 2006, only 550kg were removed per tonne and that amount is falling.

—Dr. Pep Canadell

The researchers for the study are Josep G. Canadell, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Canberra, Australia; Corinne Le Quéré, University of East Anglia, School of Environment Sciences, Norwich, UK, and British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK; Michael R. Raupach, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Canberra, Australia; Christopher B. Field, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Global Ecology, Stanford, CA; Erik T. Buitehuis, University of East Anglia, School of Environment Sciences, Norwich, UK; Philippe Ciais, Commissariat a L’Energie Atomique, Laboratorie des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, France; Thomas J. Conway, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, CO; Nathan P. Gillett, University of East Anglia, School of Environment Sciences, Norwich,UK; R. A. Houghton, Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA; Gregg Marland, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria.

Resources

Comments

K

Looks well done and useful.

CO2 levels may well be the most reliable fact we have pertaining to AGW pro or con.

One is tempted to say 'thank you Lord, at least one number is not greatly disputed.'

The level doesn't prove anything about GW itself, proof of warming must come from measuring warming. But at least we know which way CO2 is going and how fast. And it doesn't look good.

The Kyoto Treaty has produced some intended and some unintended realities. It has worked as intended to reduce CO2 emissions and/or emissions growth in the nations bound by it.

But Kyoto may have actually increased total world emissions because manufacturing shifted to poorer nations where fuel is used less efficiently and emissions are hardly controlled at all.

IMO the shift of manufacturing nations was going to happen anyway because of the labor cost advantages.

Two statements in this article seem vague or iffy or puzzling. They may not be in the report itself.

The first (midway down) is:

"For example, the Southern Ocean winds have increased in response to greenhouse gases and ozone depletion."

I certainly accept that the winds have increased if the study says they have. But do they know the increase is due to greenhouse gases and ozone depletion? Doing that seems like very clever science indeed; I suspect the writer went beyond what the report actually says.

The second statement(near the end):

"What we are seeing is a decrease in the planet’s ability to absorb carbon emissions due to human activity."

Does this say human activity is causing a decrease in... ability? Or does it say we are emitting so much CO2 that a smaller percentage is absorbed?

In other words, are we damaging the process itself? Or are we just exceeding its rate? The text seems to argue the damaging angle but I don't see that in the graph.

Aussie

Seems like we are in a race to see which comes first; runaway climate change or shortages of all fossil fuels. Either way I don't see a happy ending.

K the speedup of Southern Ocean winds is highly unpredictable, like Gulf of Mexico hurricanes. No-one seems to know what to expect next.

richard schumacher

Estimating from their graph an excess of 16 x 10^15 g CO2/year, this is equivalent to about 8,000 cubic kilometers (about 2,000 cubic miles) of CO2 per year at standard temperature and pressure. So much for the feasibility of carbon capture and sequestration.

Kit P

How odd, that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are pretty much exactly where they were expected to be and are certainly not showing any dramatic acceleration. Could this be another case of the virtual world predictions not matching the real world?

The only thing that can be accurately measured is in the curve presented is the amount of fossil burned. If someone wants to pick a point in time where the economy is slowing and compare it to a time the economy is accelerating, then I might be justified in calling them fear mongers without any scientific credibility. I predict in the actual report they call for more funding of their research.

jack

Kit, I'm going to have to give you a troll quality rating of 2 (out of 10). Not good.

Matthew

I don't think it's a coincidence that the rate has gone up only since Al Gore went on his globe-spanning environmental crusade. Even I wouldn't have expected his personal contribution to be so great, however.

jack

Hey, Matthew - you forgot to mention that Al Gore is fat and so is his wife.

Al Gore flies on planes! Hypocrite!

Did I mention I'm a petty partisan twit?

Matthew

Did I mention I'm a petty partisan twit?

You misspelled 'humorless twit'.

jack

You misspelled 'humorless twit'.

I didn't want to mention your lack of humor specifically. It's implied. But I guess a twit wouldn't notice that, so now we have to spell it out.

You need a time out.

Matthew

Good Lord, Jack...that's about as weak a comeback as "I'm rubber, you're glue..."

FAIL.

P.S. You're fat.

jack

Good Lord, Jack...that's about as weak a comeback as "I'm rubber, you're glue..."

Says a guy whining about Al Gore flying.

P.S. You're fat.

I'm not your wife, Matthew.

gr

A "Carbon Goods Tax" on offshore foreign goods will both inhibit uncontrolled expansion at the expense of clean air and water and promote the "Grown at Home" campaign.

"Grown at Home" is the return to locally grown and manufactured goods eliminating the long distance carbon transport cycle and supporting local economies. Lower carbon foot prints mean buying less carbon heavy merchandise from carbon emitting manufacturers.

Mike McCarthy

Only two sources of CO2 are listed. It's not clear if the analysis would change if all sources were counted, as well as CO2-equivalent emissions, e.g., CH4. Does 'fossil fuel' burning include coal and peat fires? Would adding CH4 numbers include CH4 emitted from sediment in dams, wet rice farms, cattle, etc.? These additions, in CO2-e terms, are very significant.

glenn

gr has a good point.

Along with a domestic carbon tax it makes sense to have a duty on imported goods from countries without a similar tax. This would encourage relocalization for food and manufactured goods, encourage other countries to enact a carbon tax and discourage long distance shipping.

However, we would not want to penalized a responsible person or company in an irresponsible country.

JMartin

A modest proposal: Since Bush is asking for $46 Billion more for Iraq, Congress should approve it with the provision that an equal amount be raised by taxing non-renewable carbon imports (foreign oil). It would be revenue neutral, make us more self sufficient, and force up energy prices to provide incentive to shift to renewables.

K

I would say the proposals of gr, glenn, and JMartin are proof that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

First a carbon tax on imports is proposed. And it isn't to be a simple tax on imported fuel but a hideously complex calculation to define "carbon heavy merchandise from carbon emitting manufacturers."

This selective tariff by another name would violate the international trade treaties. But that might be fixed by negotiations. In a decade or so.

What will not be fixed is the labor cost advantage that manufacturers enjoy overseas. 'Grown at Home' would widen that gap.

glenn wants a domestic carbon tax and tariffs on countries that don't have a similar tax. Again all sorts of problems with trade treaties. Plus an added complication:

"we would not want to penalize^ a responsible person or company in an irresponsible country."

And how do we identify the good guys in irresponsible countries?

And lastly, a Modest Proposal. Let's not fund the $46B for Iraq if Bush won't tax foreign oil by the same amount?

Well, the Democrats tried that. They passed bills that tied funding to other matters. Bush vetoed the bills and stared Congress down. He would again, with the same outcome.

It a bad idea to bundle serious matters into one bill anyway. A politican should vote for or against funding as he thinks best. And he should vote for or against some tax as he thinks best.

Roping a dog to a cow does not produce a versatile watchdog that gives milk. The likely result is a dead dog after the cow rolls over at night. But maybe you will get a tormented cow that produces no milk.

domenick

I agree. Best not to do anything. We have time to evacuate Florida and the sea side cities. Let's just wait. That's the smart thing to do.

gr

K,

Change is good. So, let's scrap the trade agreements and stop global warming. Step one - the "carbon goods tax" aka import duty, escalating/de-escalating by national volumetric CO2 measured on semi-annual basis. Country A's CO2 volume increases - so does the carbon goods tax. While import duties sound ominous it's just another way to pressure industrial economies to expand responsibly. Taxes don't have to cause retaliation.

True, Grown at Home manufacturing will not readily compete against foreign without the carbon goods tax, but hey, do we want to face the foreign CO2 and pollution problems now or swim in the arctic ocean?

K

gr: "True, Grown at Home manufacturing will not readily compete against foreign without the carbon goods tax, but hey, do we want to face the foreign CO2 and pollution problems now or swim in the arctic ocean?"

Not a valid dilemma. How about this: Let's not face the foreign C02 and pollutions problems now or not swim in the Artic Ocean?

Your first sentence is mistaken too. Grown at Home manfacturing will not readily compete against foreign with OR WITHOUT the carbon goods tax. Your tax on carbon here makes domestic costs go up. Your tax of carbon imports also makes domestic costs go up.

You said you want both taxes. True, Chinese exports to the US may fall. That will just make it easier for other nations to import goods from China. The US consumer will pay any import tax when he encounters higher prices at Walmart, no one in China will pay it.

We won't be able to tax imported goods w/o taxing domestic goods. And we aren't going to scrap the trade treaties to do so. I see no point in discussing another planet where those things may happen.

And what's with this? "taxes don't have to cause retaliation." Er, um, so they don't have to. What if they do?

Domenick responded to someone. I'm not sure he was speaking to me. But, if so, his comment doesn't make sense either. Nothing I said indicated we should do nothing.

He tries to employee this argument, roughly stated: 'if you don't accept what is proposed you don't want to solve the problem.'

That makes as much sense as 'if Pamela Anderson won't sleep with me she doesn't like secks.'

gr

K,
"Your tax on carbon here makes domestic costs go up. Your tax of carbon imports also makes domestic costs go up."

I have not proposed a domestic carbon tax. Only the import carbon tax fixed to the cumulative carbon emissions by nation. It's a little like saying "Be wary of that British beef - they have a mad cow problem." Of course should there be a dog roped to the cow, it may pass for a harmless blind cow with canine assistance. Either way, the beef is tainted by perception which lowers its value. And urges England to do better (with mad cows.)

You're right, the arctic ocean comment is inane.

Robert Schwartz

It would seem that the effect of additional CO2 is subject to the law of diminishing returns, and that the climate system does not have positive feedbacks that would lead to a "run-away".

Climate CO2 sensitivity

gr: Thanks for the courteous reply. It seems you didn't propose a domestic tax.

My mistake came from what Glenn wrote at 1:57.

"gr has a good point.
Along with a domestic carbon tax it makes sense to have a duty on ........."

So, I can't tell if Glenn was thinking you advocated the domestic tax. Perhaps he meant he advocates it. He may clarify.

domenick

Actually, I was saying, why not propose a solution of your own instead of just pissing on other peoples ideas.
And Pamela likes secks. I've seen the video.

K

domenick: I often endorsed proposals and sometimes offer my own. But this is a forum and proposals are open to criticism.

You apparently don't grasp that.

I will list four of my principles about dealing with the energy problem. Then an outline of how I would start. Then you may urinate on them.

1)Focused legislation. Any omnibus bill will be stuffed with crap and any worthwhile intent will be watered down so it won't work. And not by accident.

Cluttered and opaque legislation is the way politicans want to operate. It allows them to lie their way out of almost any consequence while insuring they get huge payoffs - legal and unlegal - from monied interests.

Get a scale. Weigh the bills. The worst ones are the heaviest.

2) I am not interested in the 'fairness' word or its pal 'equal'. Any financial effect will seem unfair to someone. Tax burdens are never fairly or perfectly spread for two reasons: special interests don't want it, and people can't agree about what is fair and perfect anyway.

Most will agree that others should pay any new taxes.

3) Focus on fixing ourselves, the US. All this talk of making China, India, et al. swallow our virtue medicine will make things worse. Foreigners have no intention of doing as we wish. Most governments have little intention of even doing what their own citizens wish.

Foreign nations must freely choose to reduce GHG and pollution or it won't get done.

4)It is hard to repeal bad agreements. So treaties should be short term and lapse if not renewed.

Nations get into messes with treaties for the same reason individuals get into messes. One reason: "it seemed like a good idea at the time."

Now to specific proposals. Begin with a flat tax on every barrel of oil from the ground or imported. Simple to collect, hard to evade.

Ignore wails about revenue neutrality or rebate schemes. I have explained why. Also ignore the screams of unfairness and demands that coal and NG taxes be bundled in the bill.

There are perhaps twenty grades of oil, tax them all the same, a barrel is a barrel. Or you will end up with the omnibus bill full of exceptions and favors.

Once that is passed look at the next problem, probably coal. Pass a similar tax.

Once that is passed look at refined products. Gasoline is the biggest. Diesel second? Place flat taxes there.

Immediately moans like this will be heard. "Oh, my God, this is double taxation. The oil is already taxed and now there will be a tax on gasoline extracted from oil".

See through the double taxation argument. It is BS. When you buy anything you pay multiple taxes, you just don't notice them. You are paying the real estate taxes on the store, income taxes on the workers who made the product, and taxes on the company that made the profit.

Many states put a sales tax on gasoline. There is already a flat tax on gasoline. So you pay sales tax on the flat tax. Pure double taxation.

You might also note that just because I haven't mentioned something doesn't mean I oppose it.

@Kit P,

You have chosen to criticize the Religion of the self appointed would-be world saviors.

Beware.

You have used rationality.

Don't you realize that Gaiaists don't want rationality. They want dance around the Maypole and burn witches at the post. It is the only way to make ciphers who are incapable of doing anything useful themselves, but bark and howl, to seem valuable.

Meanwhile, people who are making a better world are just proceeding to solve the real problems; or discover and prove that most of the bovine excrement is just that, BS.

Some earnest scientist says that based on his measurements taken on a Banana boat, the Ocean is full up of CO2 and can't absorb any more.

A moment of scientific reflection of the absorption capacity of the Ocean versus the total atmospheric capcity of CO2 would lead any one with a lick of scientific sense, including the IPCC, to smirk and say this earnest report wil be reversed on further research.

The IPCC itself suggests that the the best place to sequester CO2 is the Ocean. Its capacity to absorb the entire annual anthropgenic CO2, would not be seriously changed in hundreds of Millenia.

Read what the IPCC itself says "Climate 2001 CO2 and Mitigation".
http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc-tar/wg3/index.htm

Now this is a genuine Report of the IPCC scientists, not a five page Summary, witten by bureaucrats and politicians, that is the only thing read or skimmed, by the knothead Gaia prophets.

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