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Trending science: Our global carbon credit is running out

Nature Geoscience has published a study by the Global Carbon Project showing that global greenhouse gas emissions are on course to reach record high of over 40 billion tonnes in 2014.

World leaders met at the UN Climate Summit on Tuesday with the aim of catalyzing action on climage change. Their meeting followed Sunday’s wave of climate change marches all over the world involving an estimated 570 000 people in 161 countries who took to the streets demanding action. In the days before the summit, Global Carbon Project released a study which shows that annual carbon dioxide emissions this year have risen by 2.5 % on 2013 levels, putting the total emitted this year on track for 40 billion tones. That compares with emissions of 32 billion tonnes in 2010. According to The Guardian, the study results mean that the global ‘carbon budget’ – or the total governments can afford to emit without pushing temperatures higher than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels – is likely to be used up within just one generation, or in thirty years from now. The Guardian quotes Dave Reay, Professor of Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, who says, ‘If this were a bank statement it would say our credit is running out. We’ve already burned through two-thirds of our global carbon allowance and avoiding dangerous climate change now requires some very difficult choices.’ There was ‘a brief blip’ in global emissions growth at the time of the banking crisis, The Guardian says, but this was ‘quickly overtaken by an expansion in fossil fuel demand’. The Global Carbon Project study notes that CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production grew by 2.3% between 2012 and 2013. It estimates, based on projections of World Gross Domestic Product and recent changes in the carbon intensity of the economy, that emissions from these sources will rise by a shocking 65 % compared on 1990 levels. Scientific American also reports on the study, telling us that the largest emitters in 2013 were China, the United States, the EU and India. It adds, ‘A large part of China's emissions were from industries that supplied services to the developed world. China has overall contributed 11 to the world's cumulative carbon budget.’ Europe was the only key region that registered a drop in emissions in 2013, according to Euractiv. According to the publication, ‘[Europe] released 11% less pollutants in the atmosphere than the prior year, thus modestly compensating for increases in other regions.’ This might seem like a source of good news in an otherwise grim report, however Euractiv is quick to add that Europe’s emissions decline ‘should not be cause for celebration’ since it is largely attributed to the economic downturn. Most worrying of all perhaps is the study’s forecast, quoted by Euractiv, that ‘steady yearly increases would “likely” lead to a 3.2-5.4 degrees rise in the world’s temperature by 2100’. This would lead us beyond the 2 degrees threshold after which, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we would reach a dangerous level of global warming. For more information, please visit: