CO2 levels mean climate change could be much worse than predicted

30 October 2007

An international team of researchers has found that, since 2000, the rate at which CO2 has been pumped into the atmosphere is 35 per cent greater than most climate change models have allowed for.

The conclusions have serious implications for forecasts of how much and how quickly the world’s temperature will rise and mean that global warming will be harder and more expensive to control than feared. The results also mean that international efforts to bring CO2 emissions under control will need to be more far-reaching.

Professor Nicholas Owens, of the British Antarctic Survey ( BAS ), said that the findings were so worrying that they made previous widely accepted forecasts of climate change seem unduly optimistic.

In February this year the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), judged that world temperatures would rise by up to 6.4C (11.5F) over the next century. But the findings of the team of researchers, who include Corinne Le Quéré, of the BAS and the University of East Anglia, may force the IPCC to revise its predictions.

“There’s quite a significant difference from what was forecast,” she said. “It’s rather scary and the IPCC scenarios are, therefore, rather too optimistic — as if they weren’t bleak enough already. The whole thing is likely to mean mitigation is rather more difficult than was thought.”

Rapid expansion of the Chinese and Indian economies was thought to be at least partly responsible for the increase in the rate that CO2 has been emitted into the atmosphere.

The study identifies inefficient use of fossil fuels as a prime cause of the rise in emissions and the number of coal-fired power plants being built in India and China is identified as one of the key causes of that inefficiency. Previous models for climate change had allowed for an expansion in the global economy but also assumed that the trend towards more efficient burning of fossil fuels would continue.

Recent research has also noticed a reduction in the ability of the oceans and the land to absorb carbon.

The problem with the seas was identified this year in the Southern Ocean, where winds driven by climate change are bringing carbon-saturated waters to the surface, which are unable to absorb any more carbon. Droughts, a further by-product of climate change, are suggested as a reason why land is absorbing less carbon.

The latest study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In 2006 global CO2 emissions were found to have risen to 9.9 billion tonnes, 35 per cent above levels in 1990. Dr Le Quéré said: “The decline in global sink efficiency suggests that stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought. We found that nearly half of the decline in the efficiency of the ocean CO2 sink is due to the intensification of the winds.”

— Gordon Brown is being urged by John Hutton, the Business Secretary, to reduce Britain ’s commitment to targets for renewable energy, it is reported today. Documents apparently prepared for the Prime Minister by Mr Hutton give warning that attempts to produce a fifth of all European energy from “green” sources would be expensive and face “severe practical difficulties”, The Guardian says. There was no official comment.

From TimesOnline Oct 23

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