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How long until world emits its trillionth tonne of CO2?

Wed, 14 Nov 2040 19:10:40:GMT – the date at which website predicts world will emit trillionth tonne of CO2. And it’s getting closer. 

trillion

By Sophie Yeo

If you are finding it hard to imagine how much carbon dioxide is being emitted every second across the globe, TrillionthTonne.org might help.

The website, set up by researchers at Oxford University, shows just how quickly the tonnes of CO2 are stacking up.

At the time of writing, the figure is hovering around the 574,338,000,000 mark – but it is a figure that is sharply increasing, and is one that is over halfway to one trillion.

The figure of one trillion has garnered an extra level of significant over the last month. When the fifth IPCC report was launched in September, collecting together the last seven years of climate science, it contained a stark warning from scientists: if the world is to have a better-than-average change to staying below 2C of warming, then one trillion tonnes of CO2 is the budget.

Based on this cautious estimate, they predict that the budget will be spent on the 14 November 2040 – though the date is inching closer as the rate at which carbon is being emitted increases.

Their more pessimistic projection, taking into account the uncertainties about the sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide, is that the world will have exceeded 2C of warming by 20 January 2021 – just one year after whatever climate deal the UN agrees to in 2015 is set to be implemented.

On the website, they write: “The trillionth tonne could be released in less than 40 years time, or, if we take the measures necessary to avoid dangerous climate change, it could never be released…

“To be effective in the long term, climate policies must address the question of what is to be done with the carbon that will never be safely released. Measures to reduce emissions will help in the short term, but not all of them will lock carbon away forever.”

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  • Steve Barney

    I am no expert, but this article seems to confuse a gigatonne of carbon (GtC) with a gigatonne of carbon dioxide (GtCO2). According to the IPCC:

    “1 Gigatonne of carbon corresponds to 3.67 GtCO2.”
    Summary for Policymakers – IPCC AR5 WGI
    http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5-SPM_Approved27Sep2013.pdf

    Now compare these statements from the IPCC and Sophie:

    “From 1750 to 2011, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have released 365 [335 to 395] GtC to the atmosphere, while deforestation and other land use change are estimated to have released 180 [100 to 260] GtC. This results in cumulative anthropogenic emissions of 545 [460 to 630] GtC. {6.3}”
    Summary for Policymakers – IPCC AR5 WGI

    “The website, set up by researchers at Oxford University, shows just how quickly the tonnes of CO2 are stacking up.
    At the time of writing, the figure is hovering around the 574,338,000,000 mark – but it is a figure that is sharply increasing, and is one that is over halfway to one trillion.
    The figure of one trillion has garnered an extra level of significant over the last month. When the fifth IPCC report was launched in September, collecting together the last seven years of climate science, it contained a stark warning from scientists: if the world is to have a better-than-average change to staying below 2C of warming, then one trillion tonnes of CO2 is the budget.”

    See the problem? It looks like Sophie is equating 1 GtC with 1 GtCO2, whereas the IPCC says that 1 GtC = 3.67 GtCO2. The IPCC refers to a 1 trillion gigatonne carbon (GtC) budget, whereas this article refers to a 1 trillion gigatonne carbon dioxide (GtCO2) budget. It would be easy to make such a mistake, especially considering such confusing IPCC language as this heading to Table SPM.3 (SPM page 26, IPCC WGI AR5):

    “Cumulative CO2 Emissions 2012–2100 (in GtC)”