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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3 Martin Siegert, Imperial College London, quoted in Guardian 3 Apr 19.
4 University of California Berkeley
5 NASA Earth Observatory
6 British Geological Survey
7 Guardian 27 Feb 18
8 IPCC (2014) from US EPA
10 EC Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research, 2018
11 Up to 2007, World Resources Institute, quoted in Guardian 21 Apr 2011
12 Wikipedia
13 Up to 2007, World Resources Institute, quoted in Guardian 21 Apr 2011
14 Atmosfair:
15 Glen Peters, CICERO
16 WRI,
17 Scripps Institute of Oceanography
18 Climate Action Tracker
19 WMO

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