The World Meteorological Organization revealed that we now have the highest carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere in the past 800,000 years. For this, you can blame a combination of human perfidy toward our planet and an exceptionally strong El Nino weather event. El Nino is a recurring weather system that essentially makes life miserable for millions, bringing drought to Colombia, bleaching Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and just generally acting like Mother Nature’s jerkiest son. It also blocks trees from doing their CO2-eating duty, while simultaneously triggering massive forest fires that put yet more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To be clear, this new level isn’t a sign of impending catastrophe. It’s just a reminder that CO2 levels are still creeping upward, now faster than ever.
Carbon Dioxide – some facts and figures
213 countries and territories are listed as emitting a total of 29.319 billion tonnes of CO2.
52 countries, each emitting <1 million tonnes per annum, were responsible for 18.6 million tonnes (0.06%) of CO2 in 2007.
120 countries, each emitting <100 million tonnes per annum, were responsible for 2.683 billion tonnes (9.15%) of CO2 in 2007. 41 countries, each emitting >100 million tonnes per annum, were responsible for 26.618 billion tonnes (90.79%) of CO2 in 2007.
Fig. 1. The ten largest emitters were responsible for 76% of total anthropogenic emissions in 2007.
CO2 emissions into the atmosphere are increasing at a rapid and accelerating rate and are now at their highest level in 15 million years.
The Big Five: China, USA, India, Russia and Japan each emit over 1 billion tonnes of CO2 per annum. Their total emissions in 2007 were 16.781 billion tonnes, over 57% of anthropogenic emissions.
China and the USA are the largest emitters of CO2. In 2007 they emitted 6.538 and 5.838 billion tonnes respectively, over 42% of global emissions.
Neither country has committed to a reduction of their total emissions by 2020.
Both countries expect their emissions to rise for at least the next 20 years.
Japan emitted 1.172 billion tonnes of CO2 in 1990 and committed itself to reduce them by 20% or 237 million tonnes by 2020. By 2010 its emissions were 1.327 billion tonnes, an increase of 155 million tonnes or 13.2% on 1990 levels.
India expects its population to increase by 500 million over the next 20 years and its economy to rapidly expand. Consequently CO2 emissions are predicted to at least double, possibly treble over the next 20 years.
Russia significantly reduced its emissions in 1990 when it closed high polluting inefficient factories with collapse of the Soviet economy. Following the heatwave of 2010 which destroyed 20 percent of its grain crop and caused 50,000 deaths, it committed to reduce its 1990 emissions by 25 percent by 2020. Achievement of this target is questionable.
Australia is the largest exporter of coal in the world. Its 2008/09 coal exports were 261 million tonnes compared with production of some 70 million tonnes for domestic use.
Emissions from exported coal are over 3 times more than domestic emissions. Exported emissions are not recorded as Australian emissions but those of the countries in which the coal is burned.
Australia now emits more CO2 than France, a country with a larger more diverse economy and a population almost three times greater.
In 2008/09, major importers of Australian coal included Japan (104.8 million tonnes [Mt], 39.8%), Korea (43.1 Mt, 16.3%), Taiwan (26.1 Mt, 9.9%), China (25.0 Mt, 9.5%) and India (24.7 Mt, 9.4%), all countries with significant and growing CO2 emissions.
What Would a World of Carbon Dioxide Be Like?
Since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, it is able to ‘trap’ and retain heat, which is why it is given the name ‘greenhouse gas’. So what would Earth be like if its entire atmosphere consisted of carbon dioxide? Well, it would be very similar to that of Venus.
Venus’ atmosphere consists of roughly 96 – 97% carbon dioxide. Because of the sheer amount of carbon dioxide present, the surface of Venus continually retains heat and as such, the surface temperature of Venus is roughly 467°C, making it the hottest planet in our Solar System.