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11 Wonktastic Charts that Will Help You Understand Climate Change

Lindsay Wilson's picture
Shrink That Footprint
  • Member since 2018
  • 145 items added with 113,219 views
  • Sep 29, 2014

One of the great shames about the communication of climate science is that it most often comes in two forms.  Dumbed down to the point of backyard greenhouse analogies or indigestible on the level of the IPCCs Summary for Policy makers.
Luckily once a year a happy medium occurs in the form of the Global Carbon Budget, the work of a stellar cast of 88 academics from 68 organisations in 12 countries.
This years budget is hot off the press.  I’ve summarized 11 of the most thought provoking charts below.

1) Carbon emissions are still going up


Another 2.3% in 2013 with projections that it will rise a further 2.5% in 2014.

2) Coal is the major source of growth


Coal was responsible for 59% of emissions growth in 2013, oil was 18%, gas 10%, and cement 12%.

 3) China’s emissions just keep going (and going)


Most emissions growth occurred in China.  In per capita terms its terrestrial emissions now exceed Europe

4) But in historical terms the US and EU still dominate


Over the 1870-2013 periods cumalative emissions from the major emitters were the USA (26%), EU28 (23%), China (11%), and India (3%).

5) And China emits a lot making goods for the EU and US


The EU and US have outsourced significant industrial emissions overseas, particularly to China.

6) At this rate the 2C carbon budget will be blown in decades


If emissions continue to grow we will blow through the total 2°C carbon budget in before 2040.

7) If we keep this up its going to get really hot


Our current emissions growth is on the pathway that expects the world to warm by 3.2°C to 5.4°C by the end of the century.

8) We need to keep most fossil fuels in ground


To have a chance at 2C around 2/3 of current reserves need to stay in the earth.

9) Mitigation needs to occur at unprecedented rates

The best historical mitigation rates are about 4% during European nuclear switches.  So these look unlikely to say the least.

10) Declining deforestation is the only success story


Land use emission have declined since 1990s (the spike is the Indonesian peat fires).

11) And the ocean and terrestrial sinks


The ocean and land sinks continue to soak up an incredible amount of carbon as fertilization trumps saturation.  Without them atmospheric CO2 would already be up around 540ppm (its currently 397).

Without them it would probably be 2C warmer already.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 1, 2014

Great job Lindsay, except you may get some disagreement on whether turning the ocean into our carbon toilet is a success story.

Dan Mantena's picture
Dan Mantena on Oct 1, 2014

Great post!

Quick question: To my understanding there has never been a global consensus that a 2 degree target by the global leaders.  Has this changed recently?  Based on what I have read it seemed like countries are pledging to reduce emissions levels not to meet a specified target of 2 degrees.


Lindsay Wilson's picture
Lindsay Wilson on Oct 1, 2014

As an Australian, who might see the Barrier Reef bleached from heat or acid in my lifetime, it’s fair to say you have a point.  But in terms of the land temperature its a small blessing, one of the negative feedbacks people often miss.  For many years saturation of both land and ocean sinks has been predicted but at this point the fertilsation of greater CO2 concentrations seems to trump that.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Oct 2, 2014


If forests, especially boreal forests, are growing, don’t we eventually end up with a high fuel load for forest fires?

I was reading recently about pats of the ice sheet in Greenland turning black from soot from record Arctic forest fires.


Lindsay Wilson's picture
Lindsay Wilson on Oct 2, 2014


Growing Boreal forests (a lot of fungi rather than wood) don’t really help us much as their declining albedo (shinyness) causes more warming than the carbon soaks up.  The key forests in terms of carbon are the equatorial ones (Brazil, Indonesia, Congo), when they burn (as Indonesia did late 90s) there is a huge CO2 release.  Protecting equatorial forests from deforestation and fire is a key climate battle

Andy Maybury's picture
Andy Maybury on Nov 13, 2014

Then two degree target was about the only useful thing that came out of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. Yes, the world leaders did agree to this being a sensible limit to avoid breaching.

The fact that most of them have done previous little to implement that aim is a different story. I hope that we don’t need to wait until the place is increasingly uninhabitable before we implement the changes that we need.

Keeping the fossil fuels in the ground is perhaps the easiest, most effective way of helping matters but we have a very powerful, worldwide industry that has a vested interest in burning all that they know about, regardless of the consequences.

Lindsay Wilson's picture
Thank Lindsay for the Post!
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