The Island of Doubt

Some of the world’s top climatologists, under the collective title of the Global Carbon Project, have released what is widely considered the definitive accounting of the greenhouse-gas emissions situation. And the news is, as you might expect, not good. Nature’s Climate Feedback bloggers sum it up as “We’re all doomed.” The full report is a lot to swallow, but here’s what policy makers and anyone thinking of casting a vote in either the Canadian election next month or the American election in November should know:

Anthropogenic CO2 emissions are growing x4 faster since 2000 than during the previous decade, and above the worst case emission scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The efficiency of natural sinks has decreased by 5% over the last 50 years (and will continue to do so in the future), implying that the longer it takes to begin reducing emissions significantly, the larger the cuts needed to stabilize atmospheric CO2.

All these changes have led to an acceleration of atmospheric CO2 growth 33% faster since 2000 than in the previous two decades, implying a stronger climate forcing and sooner than expected.

Barry Brook, director of the Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability at the University of Adelaide in Australia tells Reuters that this means “CO2 concentrations could hit 450 ppm by 2030 instead of 2040 as currently predicted.” Keep that in mind when examining the candidate’s emissions-reductions proposals. If Brook is correct, none of the schedules, not even Canada’s Green Party plan, are sufficient to avoid hitting 450.

And here are two of the most important graphs from the report. The first measures carbon emissions in petagrams, but 1 Pg = 1 billion tonnes, which is how such figures are usually delivered in popular reports.


The second describes the other really troubling trend: the ability of the oceans to absorb CO2, as a fraction of the total emissions. Again, things are worse than previously feared.


It is impossible to resist repeating the phrases “above the worst case emission scenario” and “sooner than expected.” If you’re willing to get more depressed, there are lots more of that kind of thing in a PDF of the project’s summary PowerPoint.


  1. #1 paulm
    September 26, 2008

    How do we get data for the absorption of CO2 by the Oceans? Seems like a difficult thing to ascertain.

    We knew all along that CO2 figure were bad, only we didn’t want to face up to it.

    You see, we are addicted to the good life.

  2. #2 Dunc
    September 26, 2008

    And am I not correct in thinking that the 450ppm limit to prevent serious climate change is CO2 equivalent, rather than CO2 alone?

    To quote John Crichton: “We’re so screwed!”

  3. #3 The Backpacker
    September 26, 2008

    I have been thinking for a long time that we where boned, not that I know anything about it I am just a pessimist. But really is there any hope, or should we just get used to a warming climate and riseing sea levels.

  4. #4 Steve Bloom
    September 27, 2008

    A warming climate and rising sea levels aren’t the half of it. Shorter-run concerns related to water supply, such as shifting/expanding/intensifying drought zones and the geopolitical fallout from the loss of a year-round water supply for a billion+ people due to the disappearance of the Tibet-region glaciers, will soon become a major distraction.

  5. #5 muhabbet
    March 26, 2009


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