Emissions halt but atmospheric levels keep rising

I must tear myself away from the Regional cooling paper to throw this together. It’s too fascinating and too much a potential salve of our collective climate dread to ignore.

The IEA has announced that, since 2014, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have not increased. They have flatlined. Our emissions in 2016 were the same as in 2014 (last three columns–click to enlarge):

Co2 data

Actually, since the increase from 2013 was so tiny, we could say four years of practically no increase. Anyway, thinking this might have been confirmed by a reduction in growth of atmospheric levels of CO2, I checked the latest Mauna Loa observations:

CO2 Trend for Mauna Loa

The black line shows monthly mean values after correction for seasonal variations (the big waves in the red line). There’s no sign of a slowdown. In fact, almost giving the lie to my thinking, there’s a clear surge in early 2016 (easier to see in the black line), during the northern spring. These figures show that so far nobody has thought to inform the climate of our unprecedented halt in emissions.

Brief amusement

The IEA emission figures are for energy-related use of hydrocarbons, which represents just under half the crude oil produced, with the remainder (more than half) used for non-energy purposes including feedstock for material production, such as plastics. For your brief amusement, here is a partial list (pdf, 44.3 KB) of 280 products out of more than 6000 made from crude oil (referred to here as petroleum).

These emission figures probably account for most of our energy-related hydrocarbon use. The only remaining emission source is agriculture, forestry and other land use, which is responsible for about a quarter of global emissions. Could that affect this report of stalled emissions?

The magnitude of the natural CO2 flux completely overwhelms anthropogenic emissions and because of that a lot of people think we’re wasting our time trying to limit emissions. But nobody really knows until we discover the climate sensitivity to CO2; though the indications are that it’s very small.

Where to now with the consensus on climate sensitivity? During the long hiatus in temperature, emissions climbed rapidly; but during this brief hiatus in emissions, temperature has climbed. This experiment seems to indicate a loose correlation at worst (some warming effect), no correlation at best (no anthro effect on temperature).

What has the temperature done now?

Someone said it’s climbed a little,
Someone said it’s not.
Others said no, look at this:
El Nino did the lot.

Back soon. Keep well, everyone.

18 Thoughts on “Emissions halt but atmospheric levels keep rising

  1. Mike Jowsey on March 18, 2017 at 6:21 pm said:

    “a lot of people think we’re wasting our time trying to limit emissions”
    – US administration thinks it is a waste of your money too!

  2. Richard Treadgold on March 18, 2017 at 6:24 pm said:

    I like it! Thanks!

  3. Robin Pittwood on March 18, 2017 at 7:41 pm said:

    Mickey and Donald still keeping us amused.

  4. Richard,
    There are so many misconceptions in your blog post that I don’t know where to start. Let me try and explain things simply:
    1. 2016 was one of the highest years ever recorded for CO2 emissions.
    2. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will not decrease until emissions approach zero.
    3. Even if total emissions were zero, the temperature would continue to increase until equilibrium is reached.
    4. Scientists believe that equilibrium is somewhere around 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for 400ppm of CO2.

  5. O/T

    “I’m worried having a baby will make climate change worse”

    Sydney Morning Herald


    “Think of the children”

  6. Richard Treadgold on March 21, 2017 at 10:21 am said:


    You claim misconceptions in my post, yet your corrections are unrelated to what I said. Oh well, I’ll comment on those instead.

    1. (High emissions in 2016) It’s worse than that. Over 30% of our total emissions occurred in the last 20 years or so, yet the temperature rose only slightly. This global warming is not the crisis some claim it is.

    2. (Atmospheric levels won’t decrease for ages) This is of no concern and I hate the idea of trying to cool the climate. Cold is bad, warm is good. The temperature is slightly up and it would be great if the CO2 remained — like a man-made Medieval Warm Period. Lovely! More growth, more productivity, less fighting, better holidays.

    3. (Temperature will increase to equilibrium) You don’t mention the magnitude of this possible temperature rise, but that’s the only important aspect. Any idea or are you just trying to frighten us?

    4. (Equilibrium will be 1.5°C above 1750) We’re nearly there. IIRC, only 0.3°C to go, something like that. But nobody knows when we’ll get there, it depends on the climate sensitivity to CO2, and you’ve heard the argument thundering around that one!

    Don’t complain to me about misconceptions, Simon, explain them. But if you want to prove me wrong, you really must address the things I’ve said that are wrong.

  7. Richard Treadgold on March 21, 2017 at 10:22 am said:


    “I’m worried having a baby will make climate change worse”

    Heh, heh.
    They’re called snowflakes for a reason.

  8. Richard, It really is impossible to understand what you are thinking when you write things like this:
    Actually, since the increase from 2013 was so tiny, we could say four years of practically no increase. Anyway, thinking this might have been confirmed by a reduction in growth of atmospheric levels of CO2, I checked the latest Mauna Loa observations:
    Do you not understand the difference between change and rate of change? There will not be a reduction in growth of atmospheric levels of CO2 until net emissions are below the long-run average. This should be obvious to you.

    Note: There are complicating factors, e.g. net outgassing of CO2 from warming oceans, but lets try and keep this discussion simple.

  9. Douglas on March 21, 2017 at 1:35 pm said:

    Red face AGAIN for Angela – coming after her disaster of a meeting with Trump. Can she get anything right?

    Embarrassment for Merkel as Germany admits CO2 rise on same day as Berlin climate summit

    ANGELA Merkel’s Government made an embarrassing admission that their country has seen a rise in CO2 emissions on the same day Berlin hosted a climate summit.The Environmental Agency published figures today showing that emissions of CO2 in 2016 in the country were still rising.
    It is the seventh year in a row that CO2 emissions have not been reduced in the European country.

    The news will be of acute embarrassment to Mrs Merkel’s administration as it was announced on the same day more than 1,200 experts from 93 countries travelled to Berlin for talks at a climate summit, according to Die Welt.
    Despite the enormous green electricity subsidies, the country of the ‘Energiewende’ has not been able to reduce its own CO2 emissions even slightly for seven years in a row.
    However, the summit ”Berlin Energy Transition can, of course, also be seen as a success if countries learn not to follow Germany’s example.

    Germany also looks likely to miss its self-imposed target of cutting the carbon dioxide emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.
    Environmentally friendly cars you may be FORCED to replace your diesel with
    A list of low emissions environmentally friendly cars to replace your diesel with.
    Renewable energies must cover two thirds of global energy needs by 2050 if the goal of the World Climate Conference is to keep global warming “well below two degrees Celsius” this century.

    According to Irena (International Agency for Renewable Energies) chief executive Adnan Amin, the share of renewable energies in the global energy mix will have to rise by 1.2 per cent a year, which is a sevenfold increase of the rate of growth so far.As a first substantial step, it has been recommended to discontinue subsidies for fossil fuels, in particular petrol, fuel oil and gas, which are common in many countries.
    The energy consumption of the entire global economy should be reduced by 2.5 per cent per year, which is three times the average of the past 15 years.
    The global investment in the energy sector of today will have to increase from an annual budget of $1.8 trillion on average to $3.5 trillion per year, according to a report jointly published by the German economics and environment agencies.

    Expenditure would also increase global economic growth by a factor of one percent in the middle of the century and, according to the study’s authors, create six million new jobs worldwide in the energy sector alone. This would more than offset job losses in the coal and oil industry.

  10. Richard Treadgold on March 21, 2017 at 3:19 pm said:

    Simon, you’ve done it again. You’ve ignored my carefully crafted reply on your four points to raise yet another topic. If you want a discussion, why not participate?

    As to rate of change in emissions. If you understand why, as our emissions increase by leaps and bounds, the atmospheric fraction is maintained at a constant 45% (approx) and why, despite papers over the last few years speculating that it’s increasing, it hasn’t, then you’ll perhaps acknowledge the depth of our ignorance about what we call the carbon cycle.

    So your confident assertion that “there will not be a reduction in growth of atmospheric levels of CO2 until net emissions are below the long-run average” is not as self-evident as you claim.

  11. Michael Kelly, University of Cambridge on March 21, 2017 at 4:55 pm said:

    From the iea website:
    “Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016 even as the global economy grew, according to the International Energy Agency, signalling a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity. ”
    What about all the non-energy related emissions – agriculture, transport, communications, ….?

  12. Richard Treadgold on March 22, 2017 at 11:56 am said:

    Yes, thanks for pointing this out, Michael, I’ve slipped up. The bar graph labelled ‘Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions 1980-2016’ doesn’t mention, as the story does, that it’s only ‘energy-related’ emissions. It’s quite clear in the text, but I overlooked it when importing and handling the graph, so I created a storm in a teacup. Thank heaven for clear-minded readers prepared to comment frankly.

    However, my post isn’t entirely wrong. Though this IEA report doesn’t tell us, there has indeed been a hiatus in total global emissions, though only for 2015. TRENDS IN GLOBAL CO2 EMISSIONS, 2016, from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, says “After a slowdown in growth, global CO2 emissions stalled in 2015.”

    It’s interesting to remember that these emissions are not measured but calculated according to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines, under which emissions from most categories of fossil fuel use are calculated by mathematical expressions. Measured confirmation that the calculations match real-world emissions from cannery, cruise ship and coal mine (etc.) awaits, I suppose, the granting of substantial research funds. Strangely, though, there seem few scientists prepared to trust their precious AGW hypothesis to the iron rule of science—at least, I haven’t heard of a queue forming. That marks yet another piece in the AGW jigsaw that eludes precise definition.

    So for now, whether increasing or standing still, whether our emissions explain the growth in atmospheric concentration and their subsequent influence on global mean surface temperature is at best hazy, at worst unknowable.

  13. More growth, more productivity, less fighting, better holidays.

    The new motto for my new company!

  14. Richard Treadgold on March 23, 2017 at 8:33 pm said:

    Heh, heh!

  15. Maggy Wassilieff on March 24, 2017 at 2:45 pm said:

    Bit off topic , I know

    British schoolboy finds massive flaw in NASA radiation data.

    NASA has been recording “negative radiation” multiple times a day.

  16. Mike Jowsey on March 24, 2017 at 7:29 pm said:

    Negative energy is experienced before espresso. Or two.

  17. Maggy Wassilieff on March 24, 2017 at 8:12 pm said:

    @Mike Jowsey

    For a wee fee, I can provide you with some Black Tourmaline.

    (Do not substitute with coal)

  18. Richard Treadgold on March 24, 2017 at 9:46 pm said:

    If they sell Black Tourmaline for negative energy, then negative energy must be a thing, right?

    P’raps we could have a chat about the Brooklyn Bridge…

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