The atmospheric CO2 increase of 2.9 ppm between 2012 and 2013 was the largest year-to-year change over the 1984 to 2013 period of record from the World Meteorological Organization.This is sobering news when it comes to what is arguably the most important statistic in climate science.
The amount of carbon in the atmosphere will largely determine how much climate change we’ll face. If we stay on our current path, we can forget about meeting the internationally agreed-upon goal of avoiding 2°C (3.6°F) of warming. It’s worth pointing out that the announcement comes just before the UN Climate Summit in New York City where many leaders will gather to figure out how to grapple with solutions.
As a species, we have been smart about figuring out how things work, but slow to figure out how to solve this particular problem. Evidence of the heat-trapping role of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was established in 1859 and by the end of that century the discovery emerged that fossil fuel emissions could cause a shift in Earth’s climate. The first confirmation that these emissions were already changing Earth’s temperature emerged during the 1930s.
The accelerating pace of emissions after these discoveries is alarming, with over half emitted since 1970 of the total human CO2 emissions between 1750 and 2010. Accelerating emissions has occurred despite the worldwide trend, since 1850, in the mix of primary energy supply shifting away from less carbon-intensive fuels from primarily biomass to primarily coal to more oil and gas in the mix. The latest tracking for each country’s share of CO2 emissions ranks China (27%) and the U.S. (17%) as the top two in 2011. The bulk of 2012 U.S. heat-trapping emissions was in the form of CO2 (82%) with nearly a third of all U.S. emissions that year coming from electricity generation (32%). Additionally, if we look at emissions from the perspective of extracting carbon from the Earth, just 90 companies and other institutions are accountable for two-thirds of all emissions traced to their production since the Industrial Revolution.
Hence the new proposed carbon standards aimed at reducing emissions from existing U.S. power plants tackle one of the largest current sources of global CO2 emissions in the world. The EPA is currently accepting comments on the proposed rule. If you want to weigh in before the October 16 comment deadline, you may want to check out the analysis by my UCS colleagues on practical steps for making the power plant carbon standards stronger.
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