Unprecedented Jump in Carbon Dioxide Output: Alarming News … but not a Shocking Surprise

A record-breaking build-up of greenhouse gases is reported on eve of latest international climate treaty negotiations. Forecast calls for lots of empty talk, as usual.

Some big news on the climate front will be depressing to those already plenty concerned about global warming. People who work at the nexus of climate politics and policy really should wrap their minds around the first three paragraphs of this Associated Press story by Seth Borenstein:

The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated, a sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.

“The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing,” said John Reilly, co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

Commentary

But more talk is exactly what the world will be doing later this month in South Africa, at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In recent years, many observers have noted a Groundhog Day feel to these annual gatherings. Indeed, a certain ritualistic custom has become familiar.

In the run-up to these big meetings, grave announcements are issued, warning of dire consequences if no CO2 emission reductions agreement is forged. After two weeks of theater and much finger pointing, everyone goes home, with the world no closer to a climate treaty than it was the year before. This year’s script promises to be no different.

As if these empty results weren’t proof enough of a faulty approach, there is impressive evidence from a scholar who has applied game theory to the U.N.-sponsored treaty talks. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a political scientist at New York University, was profiled last year in this Scientific American article, which summed up his argument:

Governments probably won’t conclude a major international treaty to reduce atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, ever. And even if they do, any such treaty won’t actually work.

As he wrote in his 2009 book, The Predictioneer’s Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future:

When an agreement is demanding, lots of signatories cheat. When it is not demanding, there is lots of compliance with what little is asked for — but then there is also little, if any, beneficial effect.

Sacrificing self-interest for the greater good just doesn’t happen very often. Governments don’t throw themselves on hand grenades.

That’s why, as the old saying goes, “talk is cheap.” Sure, it can also sometimes be worthwhile, especially in this case, by at least keeping the global dialogue on climate change open. But it’s a good thing all that hot air generated from years of climate negotiations doesn’t get trapped in the atmosphere.

Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes often about the environment and climate change.
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5 Responses to Unprecedented Jump in Carbon Dioxide Output: Alarming News … but not a Shocking Surprise

  1. EdG says:

    The only thing that comes out of this AP report that should rattle the Durban AGW Revival Meeting is the FACT that the proportion of CO2 emissions coming from the so called ‘underdeveloped’ countries has risen (and will continue to rise rapidly), which should emphasize how flawed to Kyoto arrangement was and is.

  2. Dan Rogers says:

    Would you believe it? Someone reports that there has been a record high increase in the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere! How much has it increased? They didn’t say. Where was the increase measured? They didn’t say.

    This is part and parcel of the shopworn propaganda intended to make us believe we are choking to death on carbon dioxide. Show me the figures from the Mauna Loa observatory. The “Keeling Curve” has been front and center now for a good many years demonstrating how carbon dioxide has been increasing in the atmosphere at the top of that volcano out in Hawaii. I have almost begun to believe that those measurements out there in the Pacific at, an altitude of about 12,000 feet, actually DO reflect the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere evreywhere else on the planet.

    I will wager that the Mauna Loa readings are still less than four one hundredths of one percent.

  3. Bob Koss says:

    It seems the record co2 output in 2010 isn’t reflected by the Mauna Loa measurements. There the annual co2 increase was 2.42 ppm. 1998, 2002 and 2005 had larger increases. The annual atmospheric content stood at 289.78 ppm for 2010.

    Either the output figures are wrong or maybe the biosphere set a record for co2 sequestration during 2010.

    Here is the NOAA Mauna Loa data.
    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/#mlo_data

  4. EdG says:

    Seems that this aspect of this story has been largely ignored:

    “Global carbon intensity on the rise for first time in a decade”

    “Global emissions output is now outpacing economic growth, meaning that the world’s carbon intensity has increased for the first time since 2000.”

    “The combination of strong growth in the emerging economies of China, Brazil and South Korea, unusually cold winters in the northern hemisphere, a drop in the price of coal relative to gas, and a slowdown in renewable energy deployment was credited with driving the increase in emissions…

    The report calculates that global carbon intensity now needs to reduce by 4.8 per cent a year, over twice the rate required in 2000…”

    http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2122864/global-carbon-intensity-rise-decade

    That reduction will be impossible as more and more GDP come from China and India, powered primarily by coal. This article also includes this fantasy scenario:

    “PwC also said the UK will need sweeping reforms to generate the annual cuts in emissions of 5.6 per cent that are required if it is to stay within its carbon budget, noting that the necessary emission reductions equate to turning off power to the entire UK for a third of the year, every year, until 2020.”

  5. bob says:

    Dan Rogers: “Would you believe it? Someone reports that there has been a record high increase in the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere!”

    No they reported there had been a record high increase in carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by human activity.

    “How much has it increased? They didn’t say.”

    Yeah they did. 6% increase.

    “This is part and parcel of the shopworn propaganda intended to make us believe we are choking to death on carbon dioxide.”

    No, it is the reporting of facts. Facts that are perhaps too awkward for you to believe.

    “Show me the figures from the Mauna Loa observatory.”

    Mauna Loa doesn’t measure human CO2 emissions, it measures atmospheric CO2 concentration. And there are hundreds of other monitoring sites in the world. They all agree. When you try to pretend Mauna Loa is measuring a volcano that is surely a joke?

    Bob Koss:
    “It seems the record co2 output in 2010 isn’t reflected by the Mauna Loa measurements.”

    It is. The rate of CO2 rise measured at Mauna Loa (and other sites) is accelerating. But it’s a noisy acceleration.