First-Ever Direct Observation of Greenhouse Gas Increase

March 5, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A new study in the journal Nature offers that for the first time scientists have directly observed an increase in one major greenhouse gas at Earth’s surface.

“We see, for the first time in the field, the amplification of the greenhouse effect because there’s more CO2 [carbon dioxide] in the atmosphere to absorb what the Earth emits in response to incoming solar radiation,” said lead author Daniel Feldman. “Numerous studies show rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but our study provides the critical link between those concentrations and the addition of energy to the system, or the greenhouse effect.”

Feldman and other researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, measured the amount of infrared heat radiation from the sun reaching Earth’s surface and the amount of heat radiation the Earth emits back. Examination of carbon dioxide concentrations from 2000 to 2010 in Alaska and Oklahoma showed the “fingerprint of carbon dioxide” trapping heat in action. Some of the heat from Earth was being blocked by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—allowing the researchers to calculate that this effect amounted to two-tenths of a watt per square meter of surface warming per decade (22 parts per million between 2000 and 2010).

“The data say what the data say,” Feldman said. “They are very clear that the rising carbon dioxide is actually contributing to an increased greenhouse effect at those sites.”

Net Zero Emissions—The Business Case

A recently leaked European Union planning document states that “the world’s states should commit to a legally binding emissions cut of 60 percent by 2050, with five yearly reviews.” Still, many scientists and policy experts want this year’s Paris climate talks to aim for net zero emissions. In fact, the latest draft climate agreement, forged a few weeks ago in Geneva, does contain 15 versions of a net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions goal.

Using information in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, the 2014 United Nations Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report, and other scientific literature, a new briefing note from Climate Analytics details timeframes for that goal. For a 66 percent likelihood of avoiding 2 degrees of warming by century’s end, GHG emissions would have to be 40–70 percent below 2010 levels by 2050 and would need to reach zero some time between 2080 and 2100, but energy and industry emissions of CO2 would have to reach zero no later than 2075 and perhaps as soon as 2060.

At the outset of the Geneva talks, The B Team, a group of leaders from the business and nonprofit sectors founded by Sir Richard Branson, referenced the 66 percent chance in endorsing a net zero emissions goal: “The B Team view a 1-in-3 chance of failure as an unreasonable risk scenario carrying significant cost implications, strengthening the business case for achieving net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.”

“Momentum is already growing in finance, business and political circles for a net zero goal,” wrote Mary Robinson, the United Nations Secretary General’s special envoy on climate change, in the foreword to The Business Case for Adopting the Long-Term Goal for Net Zero Emissions, a report published by Track0.org.

EPA Airline Emissions Plan under Review

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first proposed the idea of regulating emissions for the airline industry, which accounts for 2–3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, last year. Media report that the EPA has now sent the White House’s Office of Management and Budget its draft conclusion on whether carbon emitted from airplanes is cumulatively harmful to the environment and what the agency might do to restrict emissions.

NBC reports on how a decision to regulate airline emissions could lead to fuel-efficient planes.

Following the White House’s review of the document, the EPA could, according to Think Progress, make a proposal to the public as early as May with a final decision coming in 2016. The Daily Caller; however, reports the EPA has no timeline in mind.

“We don’t have a timeline for doing a rule,” said an EPA spokeswoman. “For any potential EPA domestic rulemaking to adopt equivalent international standards, EPA would have to propose and then finalize an affirmative endangerment and cause or contribute findings for aircraft greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Climate Change under the Microscope in Report, Leaked IPCC Draft

December 20, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: In observance of the holidays, The Climate Post will take a break from regular circulation Dec. 27. It will return January 3, 2013. 

As lawmakers in Washington, D.C., debate the so-called fiscal cliff—when U.S. federal tax increases and spending cuts are due to take effect at the end of 2012—new research in the journal Nature Climate Change says we are already at the edge of a climate cliff. It explores the cost and risk associated with surpassing critical emissions thresholds by 2020, and what would need to take place to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius—a mark many regard as the limit to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It further shares that reaching the 2-degree target may still be possible even if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced before 2020, but it will be more expensive and difficult, and come with higher risks. Just weeks ago, at the United Nations climate conference in Doha, governments failed to impose additional emissions cuts—looking to a new global climate treaty that would go into effect in 2020.

Meanwhile, the draft of the next assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which provides detailed assessments of climate science every few years—was leaked online by blogger Alec Rawls before its intended release next year. Rawls claims it contains a “game-changing admission” about the sun’s effect on climate, but Dana Nuccitelli writes in The Guardian that Rawls “has completely misrepresented” the report. Rawls’ interpretations actually draw attention from other interesting conclusions in the draft thus far, the New Scientist reports—such as ice-free Arctic summers by 2100, greater sea-level rise and the likelihood we’ll see almost 9 degrees Celsius of warming by 2300. The IPCC itself criticized the leak, but Andrew Revkin writes in The New York Times that—while he disagrees with Rawls’ interpretations of the report—the leak “provides fresh evidence that the [IPCC’s] policies and procedures are a terrible fit for an era in which transparency will increasingly be enforced on organizations working on consequential energy and environmental issues.”

Soot Standard Updated

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in response to a court order, has imposed updates to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particulate pollution from power plants and diesel vehicles. The new rule, which includes soot, was revised to allow only 12 micrograms of particulate pollution—a 20 percent reduction from the 15 micrograms allowed per cubic meter of air set in 1997. While the EPA projects 99 percent of U.S. counties will meet the revised health standard by 2020, today 66 counties in eight states—including the metropolitan areas of Houston, Chicago, Cleveland and Los Angeles—do not meet it.

The highly anticipated standards came with mixed reviews, with many applauding them and one study finding reductions in particulate matter correlated to increased life expectancy. “These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness on our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air.” Still, others criticized the rulingclaiming, among other things, that it threatens industry expansion.

2013 Climate and Energy Outlook

In the new year there are a number of energy and climate related developments to keep tabs on. Among them:

Oil and Gasoline: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gasoline consumption will remain flat in 2013, while U.S. oil production will rise to 7.1 million barrels a day—the highest average annual production rate in the country since 1992.

Keystone XL Pipeline: President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision on this pipeline—bringing crude from the Canadian oil sands to the U.S. There are still snags along the way, as residents challenge the pipeline and information surfaces about advanced spill technologies absent in current plans.

Cap-and-Trade Linkage: Quebec has adopted new regulations that could pave the way for the province to set up a cap-and-trade system with California in the new year.

Coal Demand to Increase: The International Energy Agency, meanwhile, predicted demand for coal will increase in every region of the world by 2017 except the U.S.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.