Wednesday, 18 November 2009

How global warming will hit everyday life


Food shortages caused by climate change will affect national diets across Europe, according to the Met Office predictions.

Italy’s durum yields would start to decline from 2020 and the crop would almost disappear from the country later this century.

In Poland, potatoes and wheat crops would be affected, threatening supplies to other parts of the European Union.

France would be unable to produce many of its leading wines, including champagne.

Spain may also be unable to retain its position as a leading producer of fruit and vegetables because rising temperatures are predicted to turn much of the country into desert.


Insurance costs could go up because of climate change as the risk of floods and storms to people’s property increases.

Rivers across Europe like the Danube would be expected to flood regularly because of storm surges and more extreme rainfall.

Around Britain sea levels would rise by 7in (18cm) by the 2040s. The North West could have 35 per cent more rain in the winter by the 2080s while across the country rainfall could go up by more than fifth.

By the end of the century storm surges could be almost 3.3ft (1m) higher.

Already insurance companies are increasing premiums on flood plains and coastal areas and the new predictions could push costs up further.


The famous forests of Scandinavia, which supply much of our furniture, could be devastated by climate change.

Heatwaves in the summer could cause forest fires from 2025. Meanwhile, a new pest known as the spruce beetle could be expected to make wood useless.

The beetle is spreading already but would be able to breed two or three times a year in warmer temperatures allowing it to become particularly destructive.

Forestry in the southern part of Britain may also be affected and certain trees including beech could die out in the south of the country.

Great Barrier Reef 'will die' unless carbon emissions slashed

Professor Terry Hughes and representatives of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies told a meeting at the Canberra parliament that the future of the reef, and a large chunk of Australia's tourist industry, was under grave threat from rising sea temperatures.

Just a small increase in average temperatures could cause massive coral bleaching on the reef, he said.

"We've seen the evidence with our own eyes. Climate change is already impacting the Great Barrier Reef," said Prof Hughes, of James Cook University in Queensland.

To avoid permanently damaging the delicate balance of life on the reef, and give the world's largest living organism a 50 per cent chance of survival, global carbon emissions must be cut by at least 25 per cent by 2020, he said.

The Great Barrier Reef currently contributes almost £3 billion annually to the Australian economy, according to his university.

Prof Hughes made his grim prediction as the Australian parliament debated the details of the government's planned Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. A final vote on the carbon trading bill is expected next week.

Australia, one of the world's biggest carbon emitters per capita, has so far only pledged to cut its emissions by five per cent from 2000 levels by 2020.

It has said it would go further, with a 25 per cent cut, if a tough international climate agreement is reached at UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December, but this is looking increasingly unlikely.

John Quiggin, of the University of Queensland, has carried out research which shows the economic impact of a two degree rise in global temperatures.

He said a rise of more than two degrees would be "catastrophic" for the reef and tourism in North Queensland, which is already suffering as a result of the global recession.

The World Heritage-protected Great Barrier Reef sprawls for more than 133,000 sq miles off Australia's east coast and can be seen from space.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that the Great Barrier Reef could be "functionally extinct" within decades, with deadly coral bleaching likely to be an annual occurrence by 2030.

Bleaching occurs when the tiny plant-like coral organisms die, often because of higher temperatures, and leave behind only a white limestone reef skeleton.

Doctor Who star David Tennant to feature in online climate change game

The Climate Challenge game, launched by Oxfam, asks questions on topics such as energy use and bills, recycling, renewables and greenhouse gases - with players able to control which answers the celebrities give.

The aid agency hopes the game, launched ahead of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December, will raise public awareness about global warming and the need for a strong new deal to cut emissions worldwide.

The Office and Pirates of the Caribbean star Mackenzie Crook, who also features in the game, said: ''The climate challenge is a fun and interactive way to understand more about what we're doing to our planet.

''There is a serious message behind this that we must put pressure on our leaders to agree an ambitious climate deal in Copenhagen.''

The Motorcycle Diaries star Gael Garcia Bernal, who also appears in the game, said: ''Did you know how much energy you save by putting on a sweater and turning your thermostat down by just two degrees? Now is your chance to find out by playing Oxfam's climate challenge.''

Oxfam aims to encourage people to march at ''the wave'' protest in London and Glasgow on December 5 to demand the UK Government pushes for a deal which will provide funding for poor people to adapt to climate change, and ensure the world avoids dangerous temperature rises.

Nicky Wimble of Oxfam said: ''Audience research shows that people care about climate change but don't really understand what's at stake for our planet.

''Oxfam hopes that millions of people play this game, learn some shocking but realistic facts about climate change and become fired up to do something about it - both personally and by lobbying their governments.''

:: The game is available at

Climate change could devastate Europe's spruce forests and hit pasta production

Europe’s rural landscape will be transformed in as little as 25 years by climate change, according to the results of an international study led by the Met Office.

Assuming a global temperature rise of 4C by 2100, the biggest effects are predicted to hit Europe’s northern and southern extremes. By 2035, Mediterranean summers will already be more than 2C hotter than at present and Scandinavian winters up to 2C milder.

The changes are likely to lead to the destruction of vast areas of spruce forest in central Europe and Scandinavia because of a rising population of bark beetles and other pests. Crops such as durum wheat used to produce pasta could begin vanishing from the Mediterranean basin, which will become too hot and dry for economic production. The palsa mires of northern Scandinavia, partially frozen peatland that is the home to rare plants and species of wading birds, could disappear completely.

The warning comes from the five-year Ensembles project, an EU-sponsored study carried out by 66 research centres in 20 countries across Europe. The project has been led by the Met Office, which is hosting a conference to announce its findings this week.
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By combining the forces of some of the most powerful super-computers in Europe, the researchers were able to generate the most precise and detailed predictions to date for European climate change.

Announcing the results at the Met Office headquarters today, Professor Paul Van der Linden, director of the project said: “We’re looking at very immediate impacts in the next ten to twenty years. These short-term projections have never been seen before. Sometimes climate change is seen as a distance prospect — now we can see it’s just around the corner.”

The findings counter a common assumption among agricultural policy makers that the benefits to crops from elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will outweigh the drawbacks.

In the case of Central European and Scandinavian spruce forests, most previous models had predicted that wood production would increase, as the trees would grow faster in warmer conditions. However, the latest impact projections found that shorter winters would mean longer breeding seasons for bark beetles and other pests.

Above a certain threshold, this could permit two or even three breeding cycles for the beetles each year, compared with the single cycle at present.

The spruce bark beetle can kill millions of trees during large outbreaks, which normally occur after wind-storm damage that provides a fertile damp breeding ground for the insects. Dr Lars Barring, who led the forestry projections, said it was vital that forests are managed on the basis of the predictions in order to avoid significant losses.

The new projections work on a much finer scale than previous global climate models, which typically work on a spatial scale of around 700 square km. The Ensemble projections given at a 25 square km resolution, providing a much more precise idea of future regional temperature and rainfall.

The simulations show that under a business-as-usual scenario significant temperature changes will be seen as soon as 2035, with London's average summer temperature increasing by 1.8C from 16.7C to 18.1C.

Leading article: A climate change warning we ignore at our peril

Alarming new temperature forecasts show the need for urgent action

Two years ago, the United Nation's International Panel on Climate Change forecast an increase in global temperatures by the end of the century of between 1.8C and 4C, depending on the success of nations in reducing their carbon emissions. But now an international team of scientists, led by Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, argues that the world is in fact on course for a 6C rise in temperature by 2100. These might sound like small numbers. But their implications could not be bigger – or more dangerous.

We have long known that, unchecked, climate change is likely to result in a serious reduction in global agriculture, chronic drought, rising sea levels and the mass displacement of populations. But the implications of a 6C rise are more disastrous still. They include the acidification of the oceans, the loss of all polar ice and the combustion of the rainforests. It is doubtful that mankind could survive such a catastrophe.
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The instinct of many will be to dismiss such forecasts as scaremongering. That would be a serious mistake. These forecasts are based on authoritative research. They are not the predications of religious fanatics or superstitious hysterics, but men and women of impeccable scientific credentials. And unless we get our carbon emissions under control over the next decade there is a real chance that we will be heading for the sort of world they describe.

According to this latest study, between 1990 and 2000 the average annual increase in carbon emissions was 1 per cent. But between 2000 and 2008 they increased by 3 per cent on average a year. Far from coming down, our emissions are accelerating. And the explanation can be reduced to one word: China. The world has been on an unsustainable high emissions path for many decades. But the breakneck industrialisation of the Middle Kingdom over the past decade has put us on a short road to irreversible disaster.

We also report today of renewed hope that there might yet be a deal between the Obama administration and Beijing over emissions cuts – probably not in time to produce a binding global agreement for the UN Copenhagen summit next month, but possibly sufficient to enable a successor to the Kyoto Protocol to be signed next year. What this latest scientific temperature projection emphasises is that such a deal is not a political luxury, but a moral necessity.

Since the recession broke, resistance has been growing among some politicians around the world to the measures which will be needed to reduce emissions – taxing carbon-emissions, mandating greater energy efficiency, investing heavily in low-carbon energy sources, paying money for developing nations to conserve their rainforests – on the grounds that the costs will have to be borne by the public.

The scenarios associated with a 6C temperature rise ought to expose is just how wrongheaded and short-sighted such an attitude is. Any upfront costs that will be required to clean up our economies cannot rationally be compared to the costs that runaway climate change threatens to inflict on the entire planet.

But delay is just as dangerous as myopia. The longer our leaders leave it to begin the work of cutting carbon emissions, the more the opportunity to limit the rising temperature of the earth shrinks. The warnings are clear. The time for action is now.

Steve Connor: Climate change is like a disaster in slow motion


There now seems to be a growing disconnection between the message that scientists are sending out about climate change and the corresponding reaction of politicians and the public. As the experts issue increasingly dire warnings about what could happen to the world's climate system if we don't do something about carbon dioxide emissions, politicians prevaricate, the public becomes more sceptical and we all continue to burn more fossil fuels.

The latest assessment by a team of 31 leading scientists from seven countries presents a bleak vision of the path upon which we are now firmly set. It is the worst-case scenario laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggesting average global temperature will rise by 5C or 6C by the end of the century.

Six degrees may not seem like much – it is the difference between one summer's day and another – but in terms of a global average it is catastrophic. The difference between now and the last ice age, for instance, was just a few degrees, and a 6C increase by 2100 would produce a dramatically different world to the one that humans have lived in since the end of the last ice age.

Global climate change is like a disaster in slow motion. It is as if our brains are not programmed to respond to a threat that could take decades to become real: a smoking gun without a bullet. Politicians have to respond to events on a much shorter timescale which is one of the reasons, perhaps, why the climate conference next month in Copenhagen has been such a difficult deadline for them to work to. Far easier to put it off until the next climate meeting in Mexico, or the one after that.

But as Professor Corinne Le Quéré and her 30 colleagues point out in their scientific paper published in Nature Geoscience, we do not have unlimited time. The longer we put aside action on carbon emissions, the more difficult it will be to keep within the "safe" increase of C above pre-industrial times. If by some miracle we manage to curb carbon dioxide emissions now and reach a peak in production in 2012, we will still need to reduce carbon emissions by 4 per cent per year to achieve the C target. If the peak happens in 2015, we will need to reduce carbon emissions by 5 per cent per year thereafter, and if the peak happens in 2020 the reduction will have to be an almost inconceivable 9 per cent annually.

So the longer we leave it, the harder it will become. That is the simple message to emerge from the scientists who know most about the hugely complicated system that is the Earth's climate. There are huge uncertainties, which are ruthlessly exploited by those who question the relationship between man-made fossil fuel emissions and global warming, or even dispute whether we are in fact experiencing any significant warming. The scientists involved in the present study know full well that these uncertainties may affect their predictions, although not to the extent that the climate sceptics would like us to think.

One of the greatest uncertainties concerns what would happen in a warmer world to the natural "carbon sinks" that absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. All the data suggests that these sinks are more likely to become less effective when temperatures rise. This could lead to potentially dangerous "positive feedbacks" whereby warming temperatures lead to increases in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which lead to even warmer temperatures.

According to Professor Le Quéré and her colleagues, the feedbacks in the carbon cycle have already kicked in. We are now at a dangerous threshold in terms of serious and potentially irreversible climate change. The scientists know it, the politicians should know it. We all need to know it.

World on course for catastrophic 6° rise, reveal scientists

The world is now firmly on course for the worst-case scenario in terms of climate change, with average global temperatures rising by up to 6C by the end of the century, leading scientists said yesterday. Such a rise – which would be much higher nearer the poles – would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilisation.

We are headed for it, the scientists said, because the carbon dioxide emissions from industry, transport and deforestation which are responsible for warming the atmosphere have increased dramatically since 2002, in a way which no one anticipated, and are now running at treble the annual rate of the 1990s.

Although the 6C rise and its potential disastrous effects have been speculated upon before, this is the first time that scientists have said that society is now on a path to meet it.

Their chilling and remarkable prediction throws into sharp relief the importance of next month's UN climate conference in Copenhagen, where the world community will come together to try to construct a new agreement to bring the warming under control.

For the past month there has been a lowering of expectations about the conference, not least because the US may not be ready to commit itself to cuts in its emissions. But yesterday President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao of China issued a joint communiqué after a meeting in Beijing, which reignited hopes that a serious deal might be possible after all.

It cannot come too soon, to judge by the results of the Global Carbon Project study, led by Professor Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey, which found that there has been a 29 per cent increase in global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel between 2000 and 2008, the last year for which figures are available.

On average, the researchers found, there was an annual increase in emissions of just over 3 per cent during the period, compared with an annual increase of 1 per cent between 1990 and 2000. Almost all of the increase this decade occurred after 2000 and resulted from the boom in the Chinese economy. The researchers predict a small decrease this year due to the recession, but further increases from 2010.

In total, CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have increased by 41 per cent between 1990 and 2008, yet global emissions in 1990 are the reference level set by the Kyoto Protocol, which countries are trying to fall below in terms of their own emissions.

The 6C rise now being anticipated is in stark contrast to the C rise at which all international climate policy, including that of Britain and the EU, hopes to stabilise the warming – two degrees being seen as the threshold of climate change which is dangerous for society and the natural world.

The study by Professor Le Quéré and her team, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, envisages a far higher figure. "We're at the top end of the IPCC scenario," she said.

Professor Le Quéré said that Copenhagen was the last chance of coming to a global agreement that would curb carbon-dioxide emissions on a time-course that would hopefully stabilise temperature rises to within the danger threshold. "The Copenhagen conference next month is in my opinion the last chance to stabilise climate at C above pre-industrial levels in a smooth and organised way," she said.

"If the agreement is too weak, or the commitments not respected, it is not 2.5C or 3C we will get: it's 5C or 6C – that is the path we're on. The timescales here are extremely tight for what is needed to stabilise the climate at C," she said.

Meanwhile, the scientists have for the first time detected a failure of the Earth's natural ability to absorb man-made carbon dioxide released into the air.

They found significant evidence that more man-made CO2 is staying in the atmosphere to exacerbate the greenhouse effect because the natural "carbon sinks" that have absorbed it over previous decades on land and sea are beginning to fail, possibly as a result of rising global temperatures.

The amount of CO2 that has remained in the atmosphere as a result has increased from about 40 per cent in 1990 to 45 per cent in 2008. This suggests that the sinks are beginning to fail, they said.

Professor Le Quéré emphasised that there are still many uncertainties over carbon sinks, such as the ability of the oceans to absorb dissolved CO2, but all the evidence suggests that there is now a cycle of "positive feedbacks", whereby rising carbon dioxide emissions are leading to rising temperatures and a corresponding rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"Our understanding at the moment in the computer models we have used – and they are state of the art – suggests that carbon-cycle climate feedback has already kicked in," she said.

"These models, if you project them on into the century, show quite large feedbacks, with climate amplifying global warming by between 5 per cent and 30 per cent. There are still large uncertainties, but this is carbon-cycle climate feedback that has already started," she said.

The study also found that, for the first time since the 1960s, the burning of coal has overtaken the burning of oil as the major source of carbon-dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuels.

Much of this coal was burned by China in producing goods sold to the West – the scientists estimate that 45 per cent of Chinese emissions resulted from making products traded overseas.

It is clear that China, having overtaken the US as the world's biggest carbon emitter, must be central to any new climate deal, and so the communiqué from the Chinese and US leaders issued yesterday was widely seized on as a sign that progress may be possible in the Danish capital next month.

Presidents Hu and Obama specifically said an accord should include emission-reduction targets for rich nations, and a declaration of action plans to ease greenhouse-gas emissions in developing countries – key elements in any deal.

6C rise: The consequences

If two degrees is generally accepted as the threshold of dangerous climate change, it is clear that a rise of six degrees in global average temperatures must be very dangerous indeed, writes Michael McCarthy. Just how dangerous was signalled in 2007 by the science writer Mark Lynas, who combed all the available scientific research to construct a picture of a world with temperatures three times higher than the danger limit.

His verdict was that a rise in temperatures of this magnitude "would catapult the planet into an extreme greenhouse state not seen for nearly 100 million years, when dinosaurs grazed on polar rainforests and deserts reached into the heart of Europe".

He said: "It would cause a mass extinction of almost all life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles."

Very few species could adapt in time to the abruptness of the transition, he suggested. "With the tropics too hot to grow crops, and the sub-tropics too dry, billions of people would find themselves in areas of the planet which are essentially uninhabitable. This would probably even include southern Europe, as the Sahara desert crosses the Mediterranean.

"As the ice-caps melt, hundreds of millions will also be forced to move inland due to rapidly-rising seas. As world food supplies crash, the higher mid-latitude and sub-polar regions would become fiercely-contested refuges.

"The British Isles, indeed, might become one of the most desirable pieces of real estate on the planet. But, with a couple of billion people knocking on our door, things might quickly turn rather ugly."

By Steve Connor and Michael McCarthy

Global temperatures could rise 6C by end of century, say scientists

Global temperatures are on a path to rise by an average of 6C by the end of the century as CO2 emissions increase and the Earth's natural ability to absorb the gas declines, according to a major new study.
Scientists said that CO2 emissions have risen by 29% in the past decade alone and called for urgent action by leaders at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen to agree drastic emissions cuts in order to avoid dangerous climate change.
The news will give greater urgency to the diplomatic manoeuvring before the Copenhagen summit. President Obama and President Hu of China attempted to breathe new life into the negotiations today by announcing that they intended to set targets for easing greenhouse gas emissions next month. Obama said that he and Hu would continue to press for a deal that would "rally the world".
The new study is the most comprehensive analysis to date of how economic changes and shifts in the way people have used the land in the past five decades have affected the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.
"The global trends we are on with CO2 emissions from fossil fuels suggest that we're heading towards 6C of global warming," said Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia who led the study with colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey.
"This is very different to the trend we need to be on to limit global climate change to 2C [the level required to avoid dangerous climate change]." That would require CO2 emissions from all sources to peak between 2015 and 2020 and that the global per capita emissions be decreased to 1 tonne of CO2 by 2050. Currently the average US citizen emits 19.9 tonnes per year and UK citizens emit 9.3 tonnes.
By studying 50 years of data on carbon emissions and combining with estimates of human carbon emissions and other sources such as volcanoes, the team was able to estimate how much CO2 is being absorbed naturally by forests, oceans and soil. The team conclude in the journal Nature Geoscience that those natural sinks are becoming less efficient, absorbing 55% of the carbon now, compared with 60% half a century ago. The drop in the amount absorbed is equivalent to 405m tonnes of carbon or around 60 times the annual output of Drax coal-fired power station, which is the largest in the UK.
"Based on our knowledge of recent trends in CO2 emissions and the time it takes to change energy infrastructure around the world and on the response of the sinks to climate change and variability, the Copenhagen conference is our last chance to stabilise climate at 2C above preindustrial levels in a smooth and organised way," said Le Quéré. "If the agreement is too weak or if the commitments are not respected, we will be on a path to 5C or 6C."
Le Quéré's work, part of the Global Carbon Project, showed that CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels increased at an average of 3.4% a year between 2000 and 2008 compared with 1% a year in the 1990s. Despite the global economic downturn, emissions still increased by 2% in 2008. The vast majority of the recent increase has come from China and India, though a quarter of their emissions are a direct result of trade with the west. In recent years, the global use of coal has also surpassed oil.
Based on projected changes in GDP, the scientists said that emissions for 2009 were expected to fall to 2007 levels, before increasing again in 2010.
But Le Quéré's conclusion on the decline of the world's carbon sinks is not universally accepted. Wolfgang Knorr of the University of Bristol recently published a study in Geophysical Research Letters, using similar data to Le Quéré, where he argued that the natural carbon sinks had not noticeably changed. "Our apparently conflicting results demonstrate what doing cutting-edge science is really like and just how difficult it is to accurately quantify such data," said Knorr.
The amount of CO2 that natural carbon sinks can absorb varies from year to year depending on climactic and other natural conditions, and this means that overall trends can be difficult to detect. Le Quéré said her team's analysis had been able to remove more of the noise in the data that is associated with the natural annual variability of CO2 levels due to, for example, El Niño or volcanic eruptions. "Our methods are different – Knorr uses annual data, we use monthly data and I think we can remove more of the variability."
Jo House of the University of Bristol, who worked on the Nature Geoscience paper, said: "It is difficult to accurately estimate sources and sinks of CO2, particularly in emissions from land use change where data on the area and nature of deforestation is poor, and in modelled estimates of the land sink which is strongly affected by inter-annual climate variability. While the science has advanced rapidly, there are still gaps in our understanding."
The scientists agreed, however, that an improved understanding of land and ocean CO2 sinks was crucial, since it has a major influence in determining the link between human CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentration of the greenhouse gas. In turn, this has implications for CO2 targets set by governments at climate negotiations.
• The headline to this article was amended on Wednesday 18 November 2009 to make clear that the study said global temperatures could rise 6C by end of century, not that they will do so.
Alok Jha, Tuesday 17 November 2009 18.00 GMT

Greenhouse gas emissions study highlights need for tighter national targets

Developing countries now emit more greenhouse gas than rich countries, according to a study that will intensify demands for all countries to set targets for cutting emissions.
Total emissions from burning fossil fuels in developing countries, including China, India and Brazil, have more than doubled since 1990 and are continuing to rise rapidly. By contrast total emissions from developed countries, such as the US, Japan and Britain have hardly changed over the same period.
Last year developed countries were responsible for 46 per cent of global emissions, with developing countries responsible for 54 per cent.
The figures, published by an international team of scientists, will put pressure on developing countries to set stricter targets for slowing the increase in emissions. China and India are refusing to agree to any cap on their emissions and are instead offering vague targets for cutting emissions per unit of GDP. China overtook the US in 2006 as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and has extended its lead each year since then.The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, compared the total emissions of 38 developed countries with those of all other countries.
The authors, led by Professor Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, concluded: “Since 1990 the growth in fossil fuel CO2 has been dominated by countries that do not have emissions limitations. Among [developed] countries growth in some has been offset by declines in others.”
The study said that the increase in emissions from developing countries was in part due to their manufacture of goods for export to rich countries.
Professor Le Quéré said that emissions per person remained much higher in rich countries, which supported only about a billion of the world’s population of 6.7 billion. However, explosive growth in emissions in some countries, especially China, meant that the gap was slowly closing.
China emitted 4.8 tonnes of CO2 per person in 2007, a rise of 138 per cent since 1991. India emitted 1.2 tonnes, up 79 per cent, and Brazil 2.1 tonnes, up 30 per cent.
The UK’s emissions fell 12 per cent over the same period to 9.3 tonnes per person and US per capita emissions fell by 1 per cent to 19.9 tonnes.
Professor Le Quéré said that the study did not take account of historic responsibility for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. She said that developing countries were responsible for only 20 per cent of cumulative emissions since 1751. “Emissions in rich countries have only stabilised because they have reached a certain stage of development which other countries have yet to attain.”
The study also found that the growth in global emissions from fossil fuels had accelerated from 1 per cent a year in the 1990s to an average annual rate of 3.4 per cent between 2000 and 2008. The growth continued last year during the global economic downturn, though at a reduced rate of 2 per cent.
Coal has overtaken oil as the biggest source of emissions, largely because many developing countries, including China, have vast domestic reserves of coal but have to import oil.
The study also suggested that the rise in CO2 emissions was outstripping the Earth’s ability to soak up the carbon in forests and oceans. It said the levels of global emissions that remained in the atmosphere had grown from 40 to 45 per cent over the past 50 years. This finding was disputed in a separate report, published last week, by another scientist who studied the same data. Both studies involved scientists from the University of Bristol’s climate change research programme. Wolfgang Knorr, writing in Geophysical Research Letters, found no increase in the proportion of emitted carbon remaining in the atmosphere, suggesting that forests and oceans were more effective than previously thought at soaking up man-made emissions.
The dispute between climate scientists at the same university will be seized upon by climate change sceptics, who argue that the scientific evidence for man-made global warming remains uncertain and open to differing interpretations.
Meanwhile, President Obama tried to restore confidence in international negotiations on climate change by saying that he wanted the UN summit in Copenhagen next month to agree an “accord that covers all of the issues in the negotiations, and one that has immediate operational effect”. He was speaking in Beijing two days after his officials had ruled out signing a legally binding treaty in Copenhagen.
Ben Webster, Environment Editor