The urgency of climate change action


James Abbott, the Green Party spokesperson on science and technology, writes about the increasing urgency of tackling global carbon emissions. 


The slight fall in global carbon emissions in 2009, whilst welcome, was likely to be a blip in an otherwise relentless long term trend of increasing emissions.

What matters in terms of climate change is the actual concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, after carbon absorption by the biosphere and oceans. Other greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) are important, but carbon dioxide amounts to more than half of the forcing effect on global temperature.

Currently the concentration of carbon dioxide is about 390 parts per million and the trend line is showing no sign of leveling off [1].

Whilst global agreements on cutting emissions remain incomplete and fragile, fossil fuel-based economic growth models remain the norm. If this dependency cannot be broken, then, as we are already seeing, countries will seek more and more difficult to access reserves such as the Canadian Tar Sands, fossil fuels beneath the Arctic Ocean sea bed and even larger open-cast and deep seam coal, such as in the USA and China.

The Greens will continue to press strongly for investment to be directed instead towards renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, and for fossil fuel use to be both reduced and to be made as low carbon as possible in the interim.

The urgency for this to happen grows year on year. 2010 is on course to be the warmest year globally since modern records began 131 years ago [2].

The impacts of climate change are already evident in record heat waves, rising sea levels and regional disturbance of rainfall patterns, among other effects. These will only continue to mount in the decades ahead unless humanity can work together globally to address this critical issue.

Between 29th Nov and 10th Dec 2010, the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) and the 6th Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP6) (UNFCCC) will take place in Cancun, Mexico.


Hopes for progress towards new global agreements at this 16th Conference are not high.




1. Monthly data measured at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, by the Earth System Research Laboratory,

2. Figures from NASA,




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