Carbon Dioxide

CO2 has being declared a danger to human health by the U.S. EPA – a significant threat as a greenhouse gas and the leading cause of climate change and rising temperatures on the planet. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, gas, & oil) has increased by around 40% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The lifetime in the air of CO2, the most significant man-made greenhouse gas, is probably the most difficult to determine, because there are several processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Between 65% and 80% of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20–200 years. The rest is removed by slower processes that take up to several hundreds of thousands of years, including chemical weathering and rock formation. This means that once in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can continue to affect climate for thousands of years. link  
CO2 readings from Mauna Loa, Hawaii – link

Black Carbon Geoengineering Carbon taxes Hydrofluorocarbons Understanding 2C limit


  • General information
  • How much CO2 are we emitting
  • USA information
  • EPA and greenhouse gas emissions
  • CO2 levels rising too sharply
  • Montreal Treaty / controlling CO2

NASA computer model provides a new portrait of carbon dioxide – 3-minute video

 General information

April 18 2018: Pollution outsourcing. For years now, CO2 emissions in the USA and Europe have been steadily falling. On the flip side, emissions in developing countries like China and India have been growing at a very rapid clip. Are these trends closely related? That is, are rich countries just “outsourcing” their climate pollution to poorer countries, by shifting their factories overseas? The answer is basically yes. One big question is whether this sort of outsourcing should be taken more seriously in international climate negotiations. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are generally held accountable for the emissions produced within their own borders. But is that fair? Should the US or Europe take at least some responsibility for the pollution produced overseas to make the goods they enjoy? So far, this idea hasn’t gained much traction, in part because CO2 outsourcing has been so tricky to measure precisely. link

June 2018: Green electricity isn’t enough to curb global warming. According to new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the continued use of fossil fuels is likely to push CO2 emissions beyond manageable levels. The adoption of clean energies to power electric grids won’t be sufficient to meet the Paris climate targets established by the United Nations. The Paris agreement called on nations to progressively curtail CO2 emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To meet this target, scientists suggest no more than 200 gigatons of CO2 can be released between now and 2100. If current fossil fuel-use trends continue, however, 4,000 gigatons of CO2 will have been emitted by the end of the century. link

October 2017: Carbon emissions from warming soils could trigger disastrous feedback loop. The 26-year study, one of the biggest of its kind, warned warming soils are releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than previously thought, suggesting a potentially disastrous feedback mechanism whereby increases in global temperatures will trigger massive new carbon releases in a cycle that may be impossible to break. What appears to happen is that once warming reaches a certain point, these natural biological factors kick in and can lead to a runaway, and potentially unstoppable, increase in warming. link

June 2017: Global power sector emissions to peak in 2026. However they will still be some way above levels needed to limit temperature rises in line with the Paris climate agreement. The report shows that $10.2 trillion will be invested in new global power generation between 2017 and 2040, with renewable power sources such as wind and solar accounting for almost 75% of that. By 2040, global emissions are expected to be only 4% below 2016’s levels. link

(World Bank) CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita) by country – Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, USA. CO2 emissions are those stemming from the burning of fossil fuels and the manufacture of cement. They include carbon dioxide produced during consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels and gas flaring. link   

April 2017: World breaks through CO2 threshold. link
November 2015: The world’s climate about to enter ‘uncharted territory’ as it passes 1C of warming.   link     What does a 2C rise mean? – link to page

March 2016: Human-driven carbon release rate unprecedented in past 66 million years. Research suggests that humans are responsible for releasing carbon about 10 times faster than during any time in the past 66 million years. The earliest measurements of Earth’s climate using thermometers and other tools start in the 1850s. To look further back in time, scientists investigate air bubbles trapped in ice cores, expanding the scope of climate records to nearly a million years. But to study Earth’s history over millions of years, researchers examine the chemical and biological signatures in deep-sea sediments. link

July 2015: What – and who – are actually causing climate change? This interactive graphic shows the top 10 most polluting countries (counting EU as a single bloc) that produce almost 75% of all the global emissions with energy playing an outsized role in causing climate change. It accounts for roughly 75% of emissions, internationally speaking. It shows how each country contributed to climate change in 2012, the latest year for which comparative numbers are available.  link

Total environmental impact from tourism is estimated at around 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions – link

July 2016: Pollution from commercial jets harms environment. Aircraft are “the single-largest greenhouse gas emitting transportation source not yet subject to GHG standards in the US,” said the EPA. Aircraft are responsible for about 3% of total US GHG emissions, and US airplanes make up 29% of these emissions from all aircraft globally, said the EPA. Aircraft are the third-largest contributor to GHG emissions in the US transportation sector. link

Interactive climate map and sea-level rise. The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) is a Science and Technology Center established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2005, with the mission of developing new technologies and computer models to measure and predict the response of sea level change to the mass balance of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. (Sea-level rise map)

Science Daily reports (February 2011) that new research shows that even if all greenhouse gas emissions were stopped now, temperatures would remain higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels because the greenhouse gases already emitted are likely to persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years. There would continue to be warming even if the most stringent policy proposals were adopted, because there still would be some emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

December 2014: CO2 warming effects felt much earlier than previously thought. It takes just ten years for a single emission of CO2 to have its maximum warming effect on the Earth, much earlier than several decades, an earlier misconception. However some of the bigger climate impacts from warming, such as sea-level rise, will have a much bigger time- lag. link

Weekly CO2 readings from Mauna Loa, Hawaii – link   
In May 2014, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere was 401.73ppm (parts per million) – as of May 2018 the reading was over 412 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any time in the past 400,000 years. During ice ages, CO2 levels were around 200 ppm, and during the warmer interglacial periods, they hovered around 280 ppm. In 2013, CO2 levels surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history. link

How is a ton of CO2 measured? The answer requires science know-how – link
NB: 1 ton – 2,240 lbs  – 1 tonne (metric) = 1000 kilos or 2200 lbs
In 2016, the U.S. consumed 143.37 billion gallons of gasoline, a daily average of about 391.73 million gallons – link
U.S. coal production and consumption declines below billion tons per year. link

Fossil fuels’ hidden cost is in billions, study says: October 2009: Burning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion a year in health costs, mostly because of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution according to a study released by the National Academy of Sciences. The damages are caused almost equally by coal and oil. link (This averages to $400 per person in the USA annually.) The study also excludes damage from burning oil for trains, ships and planes and the environmental damage from coal mining or the pollution of rivers with chemicals that were filtered from coal plant smokestacks to keep the air clean.  Read the study here.
 How much CO2 are we emitting?

April 2017: World breaks through CO2 threshold. The world just blasted through a huge milestone for CO2 as Mauna Loa Observatory recorded its first reading of more than 410ppm. In 2013, the world passed the landmark of 400ppm, but that has quickly become a normal reading. link   March 2014: 400ppm reached earlier this year.  In 2013 atmospheric CO2 briefly crossed 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. link

Carbon dioxide levels varied between about 180 and 300 parts per million during the 650,000 years prior to industrialization as recorded in air bubbles trapped in ice in Antarctica. But since industrialization began in the 18th century, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from about 280 to 390ppm. a rise of about 40%.Globally each year, the land and atmosphere exchanges about 120bn tonnes of carbon, while the oceans and atmosphere transfer about 90bn tonnes of carbon between them. In general this natural carbon cycle is more or less in equilibrium, such that there is no significant net change in the amount of carbon absorbed in the atmosphere, oceans and land. But we also know that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, producing cement and destroying rainforests, have disturbed the natural equilibrium of the carbon cycle by emitting an additional 7bn tonnes each year. The land and oceans absorb about 45% of this, but the remainder stays in the atmosphere and leads to the annual increases in concentration which have been recorded in the measurements from Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and elsewhere around the world. 

September 2014: Greenhouse gas levels rising at fastest rate since 1984link
November 2011: IEA warns that  time is running out to limit earth’s warming. link

 USA information

December 2009: US climate agency declares CO2 public danger – link
June  2012: Court upholds EPA right to limit greenhouse gas emissions – link

Total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by sector in 2015 consisted of:
Electricity – 29%
Transport – 27%
Industry – 21%
Commercial/Residential – 12%
Agriculture – 9%
Total emissions in 2015: 6,587 million metric tones of CO2 equivalent. link

(August 2015 – Power plants in the USA are responsible for about one-third of greenhouse gases and in April 2015 released 141 million tons of carbon dioxide, the lowest for any month since April 1988, according to Energy Department figures. )

June 2016: Transport now biggest climate problem in U.S. Roughly a third of U.S. emissions are from power plants, and a third from transportation. While power plants clean up, transport emissions have been creeping up and are harder to address. link

Where climate change will hit hardest in USA. In 1990, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were 354 parts per million (ppm) and increased at a rate of 1.3 ppm per year until reaching a level of 367 ppm in 2000. Between 2000 and today, carbon dioxide concentrations increased at a rate of 2.44 ppm per year until the current level of 392.94ppm (May 2010). If emissions continue at that current rate, carbon dioxide concentrations will exceed 600 ppm by the end of the century. link

 EPA and greenhouse gas emissions
EPA – Vehicle emissions.

March 2009: New fuel standards announced. President Obama announced plans that would significantly increase mileage requirements for cars and trucks by 2016. The new requirements mark the first time there has been a nationwide standard for emissions of greenhouse gases. They require an average mileage standard of 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for trucks by 2016 – a jump from the current average for all vehicles of 25 miles per gallon. link  (The goal is 54.5mpg by 2025 set by the Obama administration. link  (July 2018) Truck emissions under scrutiny by Trump EPA. In August 2016, the Obama administration issued final rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions from medium and heavy duty trucks through 2027, a sector that accounts for 20% of carbon pollution from vehicles. The commercial vehicle rules are  expected to cut 1.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. July 18, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked a decision by the EPA that would have lifted strict limits on the number of remanufactured heavy duty vehicles known as “glider trucks” that could be sold. link

January 2017: Obstacles if Trump wants to dismantle Obama’s EPA rules. Donald Trump has given every sign that he wants to dismantle the multitude of environmental rules President Obama has put in place over the past eight years. Overhauling the EPA is a surprisingly difficult task that involves navigating a complex bureaucracy bound by powerful laws like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.  Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both came into office hoping to take apart key EPA environmental rules, yet were often stymied by the courts, by green groups skilled at litigation, by career officials, and by sheer inertia. link

CO2 levels rising too sharply

On current trends CO2 emissions could reach 550 ppm by 2035[The Earth has warmed 0.85°C from 1880 (preindustrial times) to 2012, according to the latest report from the IPCC. link]

May 2016: NOAA: greenhouse gases not just rising but accelerating. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is not just rising, it’s accelerating, and another potent greenhouse gas, methane showed a big spike in 2015, according to the latest annual greenhouse gas index released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CO2 emissions totaled between 35 and 40 billion tons in 2015, according to several agencies. Some of that is absorbed by forests and oceans, but those natural systems are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new CO2. Methane levels jumped 11 parts per billion from 2014 to 2015, nearly double the rate they were increasing from 2007 to 2013. link

November 2016: World CO2 emissions stay flat for third year. World greenhouse gas emissions stayed flat for the third year in a row in 2016, thanks to falls in China, even as the pro-coal policies of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump mean uncertainty for the future, an international study said on Monday. CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry were set to rise a tiny 0.2% in 2016 from 2015 levels to 36.4 billion tonnes, the third consecutive year with negligible change and down from three percent growth rates in the 2000s. link

Emissions falling in Europe.

May 2013: CO2 emissions in EU fall again in 2012. The data agency for the European Commission said CO2 emissions in the EU fell an estimated 2.1% in 2012 compared with 2011. The largest decreases were in Belgium, Finland, and Sweden. (CO2 emissions in 2011 were estimated to have dropped 4.1% compared to 2010.) Emissions decreased in nearly all 27 member states, except Malta (plus 6.3%), the United Kingdom (plus 3.9%) Lithuania (plus 1.7%) and Germany (plus 0.9%). link

January 2013: China and Australia top list of “carbon bomb” projects. A Greenpeace report states that 14 “carbon bomb” projects around the world will increase global emissions by 20%. The analysis suggests that there is a 75% chance of keeping emissions below the 2C target if all 14 projects, which are at varying stages of planning and approval, are cancelled, with emissions peaking in 2015 before falling by 5% annually. “If these projects aren’t wound back, we’re looking at an extra 300bn tonnes of CO2 by 2050, which will make it very difficult to meet the 2C target,” said Georgina Woods, lead campaigner for Greenpeace Australia. link

November 2016: Earth on track for 5C rise by 2100. Earth on track to heat up to devastating levels by 2100. If humans continue on living as they do now, Earth’s temperature will warm by a devastating 5C by 2100 resulting in a world of drought, flooding, ravaged food supply, and disappearing species. link

September 2011: Global emissions of CO2 increased by 45% between 1990 and 2010. Over the period 1990-2010, in the European Union and Russia, CO2 emissions decreased by 7% and 28% respectively, while the USA’s emissions increased by 5% and the Japanese emissions remained more or less constant. There was a 5.8% increase in global CO2 emissions between 2009 and 2010 following a 1% decline in 2009. At present, the USA emits 16.9 tons CO2 per capita per year, over twice as much as Europe with 8.1 tons. By comparison, Chinese per capita CO2 emissions of 6.8 tons are still below the Europe average, but now equal those of Italy. It should be noted that the average figures for China and Europe hide significant regional differences. link

May 2011: Worst ever carbon emissions in 2010 leave climate on the brink – link 

 Montreal Treaty / Controlling CO2

February 2018: Negative emissions and air capture. Worldwide manmade emissions must be brought to “net zero” no later than 2090, according to the IPCC – UN’s climate body. That means balancing the amount of carbon released by humans with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference. But that will not be enough. To avoid runaway climate change, emissions must then become ‘net negative’, with more carbon being removed than emitted. The achilles heel of all negative emission technologies is cost. Even then, to remove just 1% of global emissions would cost around $400bn a year, and would need to be continued forever. Storing the CO2 permanently would cost extra. link

January 2012: New material for removing CO2 announced. Scientists are reporting discovery of an improved way to remove carbon dioxide from smokestacks and other sources, including the atmosphere. Their report on the process, which achieves some of the highest CO2 removal capacity ever reported for real-world conditions where the air contains moisture, appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Existing methods for removing CO2 from smokestacks and other sources, including the atmosphere, are energy intensive, don’t work well and have other drawbacks. In an effort to overcome such obstacles, the group turned to solid materials based on polyethylenimine, a readily available and inexpensive polymeric material. link

Significance of the Montreal Protocol:
The protocol entered into force on January 1 1989 to prevent depletion of the ozone layer. A 2007 study concluded it may have delayed global warming by seven-twelve years. link
December 2013: Global warming may have been twice as bad had it not been for this successful international agreement. A proposal is now on the table to rejigger the treaty in a way that could help us still more in slowing the rate of climate change. link
A new study (August 2017) is the first to quantify the impact of the Montreal Protocol on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions – results show that reducing the use of ozone-depleting substances from 2008 to 2014 eliminated the equivalent of 170 millions tons of CO2 emissions each year – link

June 2010: Positive use of CO2. At algae-to-biofuel facilities across the nation, carbon dioxide is not only not the enemy, it’s an essential partner to helping achieve a low-carbon future. CO2 – along with sunlight and water – is needed to grow algae, which can in turn produce oil, otherwise known as “oilgae” or “green crude.” Using CO2 as a catalyst to grow algae is a more viable solution for what to do with the plentiful gas than, for example, sequestering and burying it underground, according to those in the industry. “Putting it underground will not create a market. Finding a way of turning [CO2] into something that can provide value will,” Tim Zenk, said vice president of corporate affairs at Sapphire Energy. link