Big Picture Aide Memoire

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Where we are now:

  • CO2 is transparent to sunlight but NOT to infrared radiation given off by objects at temperature of earth’s surface (1)
  • Build-up of CO2 in atmosphere has taken us from 280 ppm (pre-industrial stability, 150 year ago) to 412ppm (2)
  • Last time carbon levels were this high was during the Pliocene era 3-5 million years ago. Average temperature was 3-4oC higher (South Pole 20oC higher, with trees) and sea levels 15-20m higher than today (3)
  • CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for many hundreds of years before its natural breakdown
  • World has warmed by 1.1oC in comparison to pre-industrial times (4)
  • Average temperature difference between now and the last Ice Age was 4-7oC (5) (an ice sheet 3 miles thick in places in the UK, stretching as far south as London (6))
  • Warming is more pronounced in the polar regions with around 3oC heating (7)

 

 

How we got here:

  • Global emissions pie chart (8)
  • Soil holds 3 times the carbon in our atmosphere (9). Deforestation and soil damage
  • Top 3 emitters are China (29%), USA (14%) and EU (10%) then India, Russia, Japan, with UK just 1% (10)
  • Top emitters per capita (t per head) Saudi Arabia (19), US (15.7), Russia (12), Germany (9.7), China (7.7), EU (7)
  • UK is 5th overall for absolute emissions since 1850 (6%) (11), with 5.7t per head, 36% reduction on 1990 emissions (12)
  • Consumption footprints bring UK to 11.5t per head, US 20t and China 4.3 (13)
  • To achieve IPCC’s target of 2C, carbon budget per person is 2.3t (14)

What we need to achieve:

  • IPCC target of 1.5o by achieving net zero emissions ASAP (15)
    Declared targets: 2030 (Norway, via carbon trading), 2035 (Finland), 2050 (UK, France, Denmark, Switzerland (16))

Where we are going:

  • Growth in total global GHG emissions is unabated (17), despite 25 COPs]
  • On current pathway we are headed for global temperatures 4.1-4.8 degrees (18)
  • The Emissions Gap (19)
  • Risk of uncontrollable natural trigger events such as release of methane from thawing Russian permafrost or beneath Arctic Ocean (methane is a GHG that is 8-30x more powerful than CO2 but disperses in around 8-10 years)
  • The consequences: extreme weather events, sea level rises, drought, bushfire, loss of fresh water, soil erosion

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1 UCSB MRL http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=1629
2 Climate.nasa.gov
3 Martin Siegert, Imperial College London, quoted in Guardian 3 Apr 19.
4 University of California Berkeley
5 NASA Earth Observatory https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/GlobalWarming/page3.php
6 British Geological Survey https://www.bgs.ac.uk/discoveringGeology/geologyOfBritain/iceAge/home.html
7 Guardian 27 Feb 18
8 IPCC (2014) from US EPA
9 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48043134
10 EC Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research, 2018
11 Up to 2007, World Resources Institute, quoted in Guardian 21 Apr 2011
12 Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions
13 Up to 2007, World Resources Institute, quoted in Guardian 21 Apr 2011
14 Atmosfair: https://www.atmosfair.de/en/green_travel/annual_climate_budget/
15 Glen Peters, CICERO https://www.cicero.oslo.no/en/employee/30/glen-peters
16 WRI, https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/09/what-does-net-zero-emissions-mean-6-common-questions-answered
17 Scripps Institute of Oceanography
18 Climate Action Tracker
19 WMO https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/landmark-united-science-report-informs-climate-action-summit

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