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Global CO2 Emission Rises To Record Level In 2011

By Countercurrents.org

14 November 2012

Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rose 2.5 percent to a record in 2011 on surging pollution in China , Germany 's research institute IWR said. At the same time, scientists have found human produced CO2 emissions are accumulating in greater amounts in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Stefan Nicola reports [1]:

Worldwide emissions rose 834 million metric tons to 33.99 billion tons, IWR said on November 12, 2012 . China 's releases of the GHG climbed 6.5 percent, offsetting declines in the US , Russia and Germany , the institute said.

“If the current trend persists, global CO2 emissions will go up by another 20 percent to over 40 billion tons by 2020,” Norbert Allnoch, the IWR's director, said in the statement. Countries' emission levels should be tied to mandatory investments in climate protection such as renewable energy, the IWR said.

Economies including Brazil , China and India are raising investments in renewable technologies to help meet their growing energy demand. The projected surge in low-carbon sources won't be enough to meet the UN goal of limiting global warming since industrialization to 2 degrees Celsius, the International Energy Agency said on November 12, 2012 .

China was the biggest polluter, with emissions of 8.9 billion tons. The US produced about 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide and India was the third-biggest emitter with 1.8 billion tons, the IWR data show.

From Frankfurt Reuters reported:

In terms of producing CO2 India was third, ahead of Russia , Japan and Germany .

Global CO2 emissions are 50 percent above those in 1990, the basis year for the Kyoto Climate Protocol. The first period of the Kyoto Protocol ends on Dec. 31 and moves straight into a new commitment period.

The length of the new period should be decided when world leaders meet in Doha this month at a UN summit on climate change. The summit aims to finalise a new binding emissions reduction agreement by 2015, which would come in to force in 2020.

Along with this negative development, scientists have found human produced carbon dioxide emissions are accumulating in greater amounts in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, wrote Carl Franzen [2] on November 13, 2012 :

Citing results of a new study of data captured by a Canadian satellite Carl referred to the key finding of a team at the University of Waterloo in Canada and the US Naval Research Laboratory's (NRL) Space Science Division, relayed in a new paper published Sunday online in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The team analyzed eight-years worth of atmospheric CO2 data collected by the Canadian Space Agency's Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE), a satellite launched in 2003 that is taking spectra measurements and images of the atmosphere.

The scientists finding from the ACE's data from 2004 through 2012 was troubling: Carbon dioxide levels in the upper atmosphere increased eight percent over the period, from 209 parts per million in 2004 to 225 parts per million in 2012.

The NRL described in a news release on the findings:

“The scientists estimate that the concentration of carbon near 100 km altitude is increasing at a rate of 23.5 ± 6.3 parts per million (ppm) per decade, which is about 10 ppm/decade faster than predicted by upper atmospheric model simulations.”

At lower altitudes, carbon dioxide emissions make the Earth warmer by trapping sunlight.

But at higher altitudes, the reverse is true: In the mesosphere (between 31 miles and 55 miles up) and the thermosphere (above 55 miles up), carbon dioxide's density is thinner and a less effective at trapping infrared radiation. In fact, CO2 at these altitudes is something of a heat sink, allowing infrared radiation to escape back out into space.

The thinning, cooling trend at this level due to increasing CO2 is likely to have detrimental effects on human spacefaring activity, something of a bitter irony given that a satellite was the reason we know about the increased CO2 levels in the first place.

The NRL explained:

“The enhanced cooling produced by the increasing CO2 should result in a more contracted thermosphere, where many satellites, including the International Space Station, operate. The contraction of the thermosphere will reduce atmospheric drag on satellites and may have adverse consequences for the already unstable orbital debris environment, because it will slow the rate at which debris burn up in the atmosphere.”

In other words, rather than trapping heat, the increased CO2 levels in the upper atmosphere are likely to result in longer-lasting debris, and thus, a greater proportion of debris over time as humans continue to launch objects into space.

Already, NASA's Orbital Debris Program, which tracks the overall amount of space junk around the planet, reports that there are at least 500,000 objects orbiting the Earth between 1 and 10 centimeters in size, another 21,000 larger than 10 centimeters. Other scientists have previously warned that Earth is collectively approaching a “tipping point” when it comes to space junk, where one piece of space junk colliding into another could set off a chain reaction of cascading collisions that would make it prohibitively risky to launch anything else into space, a phenomena known as the “Kessler effect” or the “Kessler syndrome” after the scientist who first proposed it in 1978.

Space junk has become such a looming problem that the NRL has concocted a plan to reduce some of it by shooting clouds of dust into space to increase the drag on debris and bring them plummeting back to Earth, to burn up in the atmosphere. That idea remains just a proposal, for now.


[1] Bloomberg, “Global Carbon Emissions Climbed to a Record Last Year, IWR Says”, Nov 13, 2012 , http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-13/global-carbon-emissions-climbed-to-a-record-last-year-iwr-says.html

[2] TPM, “Carbon Dioxide Emissions Reaching Upper Atmosphere, Canadian Space Satellite Finds”, http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/11/carbon-dioxide-emissions-reaching-upper-atmosphere-canadian-space-satellite-finds.php





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