A Safe Climate

Humanity’s fossil fuel CO2 emissions by country in 2018 are shown in chart 1.

Chart 1. Fossil fuel CO2 emissions by country in 2018. Hansen and Sato, 2016, Reprinted from Figure 5(a) of Regional climate change and national responsibilities.1

But chart 22 shows China and India have contributed a much smaller share of total CO2 emitted since preindustrial times.

Chart 2. Cumulative fossil fuel CO2 emissions by country, 1751-2018. Hansen and Sato, 2016, Reprinted from Figure 5(b) of Regional climate change and national responsibilities.1

Furthermore, chart 3(a) shows that China’s per capita carbon emissions in 2016 were near global mean (or “average”), and India’s less. Chart 3(b) displays cumulative carbon emissions per capita from 1751 to 2018. This the the total quantity of carbon emissions emitted by each country since preindustrial times divided by the population of each country in 2018. China’s contribution is less than global mean and India’s contribution is tiny.

Chart 3. Per capita fossil fuel CO2 emissions in 2018. Hansen and Sato, 2016, Reprinted from Figure 6 of Regional climate change and national responsibilities.1

Those countries most to blame for climate change, and therefore should be leading wth radical CO2 reductions, are those that have the highest cumulative-per-capita emissions: the U.S., U.K., Germany, Canada, Russia, Australia and Japan. Instead, these countries shamefully continue to be laggards as shown in Chart 4. (The decline of U.K. emissions is due to a combination of: (i) energy supply from coal declining from 15% to 5%; (ii) energy supply from wind increasing from 1% to 8%; and (iii) energy supply from biofuels increasing from 3% to 7%. Emissions from biofuels are not tallied resulting in false carbon accountancy.3 )

Chart 4. Territorial CO2 emissions of highest cumulative-per-capita emissions. For clarity, the chart is repeated on the RHS with the USA excluded. Data: Global Carbon Atlas.4

The most immediate priority of all nations is to make our climate safe and only science can prescribe the necessary changes. Arbitrary actions, that may be well intentioned, will be inadequate because there is no time remaining for half-measures.

Winning slowly is the same as losing.

Bill McKibben, RollingStone.5

Two prominent endeavours have pursued the stabilisation of greenhouse gases to limit warming: (i) 1.5˚C pathways by the IPCC and UNFCCC; and (ii) 350 ppm, the work of Dr James Hansen and colleagues. These are explained in the following posts, and the the most important finding of both is that decarbonisation alone will be inadequate, and now ‘negative emission technology’ (NET), otherwise known as ‘carbon dioxide removal’ (CDR), is required. These negative emissions are a burden being imposed on young people.6

  1. Hansen, J. and Sato, M., 2016. Regional climate change and national responsibilities. Environmental Research Letters11(3), p.034009, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/11/3/034009 showing updated version from http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/RegionalDice/()()()
  2. Figure 5 of Regional climate change and national responsibilities()
  3. https://www.worldenergydata.org/biofuels/()
  4. http://www.globalcarbonatlas.org/en/CO2-emissions()
  5. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/bill-mckibben-winning-slowly-is-the-same-as-losing-198205/()
  6. https://www.earth-syst-dynam.net/8/577/2017/()