UK and global emissions

Climate change

Humankind has emitted so much CO2 into the atmosphere that the world is warming. If we continue to emit CO2 into the atmosphere at the rate we are doing world temperature will increase and change the climate so as to destroy humankind, and most other living things as well.

In 2007 the fourth and most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Scientific Assessment Report predicted that the most likely global average temperature rise by the end of the century would be 4ºC, and this could increase to over 6ºC. A consensus exists among climate scientists that a rise of 2ºC could be catastrophic, economically and environmentally.

CO2 emissions

Between 1970 and 2000 the rise in atmospheric CO2 was a steady 1.5ppm. Since 2000 this has risen to an average of 2.1ppm. One of the things which has caused this increase in rate is growth in the global economy. It cannot be overstated how important it is for all of us to reduce the amount of CO2 being emitted.

According to DEFRA, people in B&NES emit over 6 tonnes CO2 per person per year. The worldwide average is more like 4.4 tonnes of CO2.

UK reduction commitments

The Climate Change Bill states that the UK government will cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Milliband, announced this in October 2008, based on an independent scientific report from Lord Turner's committee on climate change.


  • Arctic sea ice is melting faster than expected,
  • emissions are growing across the world faster than expected,
  • and the damage of climate change is greater than expected,

the committee recommended to move from a 60% target in 2060 to a 80% target in 2080. They also stated they would not have made the recommendations if they did not think it was feasible.

But even though it's feasible, this does certainly mean it is not 'business as usual' anymore. Things will definitely have to change.

Removing carbon from the electricity industry is the number one priority if the UK is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, was the conclusion of the independent Committee on Climate Change's first report in December 2008.

Global carbon levels

However, globally at the moment nothing is changing yet. Carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and making cement are still growing quickly, according to the Global Carbon Project's second annual update on global emissions. This suggests we are heading for the more extreme end of the range of climate change predictions set out in the 2007 report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The figures also show how the pattern of emissions is changing - most notably, for the first time more than half of human CO2 emissions come from developing nations.

The Carbon concentration in the atmosphere is now at 386 ppm (October 2008), and climbing. See also the figure below, borrowed from the US Energy Information Administration.


The number of 550 ppm is widely regarded as the upper bound beyond which the risk of facing the worst impacts of climate change, often called 'dangerous climate change', rises markedly. We will thus have to stabilise the concentration at this level. This will require cuts in emissions of 81-90 per cent by 2300, and more cuts beyond this date. These findings were published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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