Simple graphs tell a big story

John D drew my attention to RenewEconomy’s Graph of the Day: Nine simple charts to explain the global carbon budget. The post was originally published at Shrink That Footprint. There’s been next to no discussion at either place, but in my experience site stats show that a lack of comments doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of readers.

The graphs all come from the Global Carbon Project’s Carbon Budget 2013, which you can download here.

Here’s my version of the story in eight slides.

Please note that CO2 emissions are quoted as gigatonnes of carbon. Each GtC = 3.664 GtCO2.

1. Carbon emissions are still rising

In 2012-13 carbon emissions from fossil fuels and cement rose by 2.1% as against 2.2% in 2011-12.


2. Emissions from coal continue to grow strongly

Emissions from coal grew at 2.8% as against gas and cement at 2.5% and oil at 1.2%.


Shares of fossil fuel emissions are now coal 43%, oil 33%, gas 18% and cement 5%. Flaring at 1% is not shown.

3. Emissions in China and India are growing strongly

Emissions in China grew by 5.9%, in India by 7.7%.


Four emitters accounted for 58% of global emissions in 2012. China accounted for 27%, the US 14%, the EU28 10% and India 6%.

Also not shown on the graph, Japan’s emissions grew by 6.9% and Germany’s by 1.8%, no doubt associated with the phase-out of nuclear.

4. China, Japan and India are the biggest contributors to emissions growth.

China comes in at 71%, Japan at 21% and India at 11%.


5. In per capita emissions, China is growing rapidly

China is growing rapidly while the US is declining fast.


China is set to pass the EU in per capita emissions.

6. Historical cumulative emissions by country are changing rapidly

China (11%), India (4%) and the ‘rest of the world’ (36%) are increasing rapidly as against declines in the US (26%) and the EU (23%).


7. The GFC had minimal long term effect on emissions growth, while improvements in carbon intensity have almost flatlined in the last five years

The global financial crisis had no discernible long term effect while carbon intensity after improving consistently over the decades has virtually flatlined in the last five years.


This is almost certainly due in the main to the increasing use of coal in developing and transitional economies.

Concluding remarks

The overall trend is one of doom. We are perhaps moving from the completely suicidal as a civilisation to the chance of only being catastrophic. More gloom can be extracted from the complete set of Global Carbon Project slides, but the above will do for now.

One of the reasons I haven’t got to reporting on the UNFCCC talks in Warsaw is that they have shown no signs of addressing the real situation.

All countries need to do better, but an overview on how things are going is shown in this graph.


While targets are essentially voluntary and not part of an overall plan which drives firmly towards the targets science indicates are needed for a safe climate, I think we’ll flounder and waste crucial time.

Update: I’ve altered item 1 above as per Bernard J @ 4.

18 thoughts on “Simple graphs tell a big story”

  1. The S&L Crisis did not strike until the early 1980s.

    Some other causes need to be found for the downturn in the second half of the 1970s. This is important because the graph indicates that the downturn was large.

    Might I suggest the Great Recession of 1975 and the Opec Oil Shock MkII?

  2. The fourth climate change thread in as many days – have you asked Mark if you could rename his blog to Climate Clippings?

  3. Slight matter of pedantry – graph 1 is not strictly showing how atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is rising over time, but how much carbon dioxide humans are emitting over time.

    There is a subtle difference…

  4. The last graph at RenewEconomy’s Graph of the Day: Nine simple charts to explain the global carbon budget, from page 20 of Carbon Budget 2013, is the most concerning. It shows the world to be following the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 scenario, which results in a 3.2 to 5.4°C by 2100 (the plateau is later…).

    2 – 3°C is probably sufficient to ensure that a cohesive global human society is not in existence by 2100, and anything over 3°C is probably setting most of humanity for a world that resembles the more troubles parts of Africa as it is now, in terms of political and environmental problems.

  5. Makes me glad that my plan is not to be living on this planet by 2050. Pity the poor suckers that are.

  6. We’re not going to fix it. If we’re lucky 20 or 30 years from now someone will find a technological fix. Until then, we’re just going to bumble along achieving nothing. The only option left is to sit back and watch it all sliding out of control…

  7. Just to help people get some context on the RCP scenarios, open in a new tab the emissions graph from RenewEconomy and in another tab the warming that follows the same emissions scenarios. Toggle between the two, taking care to remember that the colours used to represent the different scenarios are not always the same for both graphs.

    Note too that RCP8.5 temperature is barely shifting from a linearly increasing trajectory by 2100, let alone reaching a plateau. And keep in mind that a 4°C warmer world, let alone a 6°C warmer one, is incompatible with the survival of human society in any way that we know it.

  8. Lovely November rain falling on this little spot on the Dorrigo Plateau.I heard on radio this week a connection between high bushfire temperatures and off Indian ocean variabilities,by the CSIRO.It would seem that in Victorian events of catastrophe and drama,the regularity of cycles is still playing their role than mere CO2 emissions.I came across an article in Scientific American of depositing CO2 in hot brine underground,and then reusing it again on the surface.A Thorium option as a nuke site in December’s Silicon Chip Magazine is now in action as a website.Not completely happy with either,but at least the boring arguments are slowly being now converted to,perhaps a few new directions! Not always happy with either magazines articles etc. support magazines they do not clog up the paperless office!

  9. Absolutely nothing will change until nukes, most likely Thorium ( LFTR) are a big part of the mix

  10. If you want to feel a little bit optimistic:
    More and more people are linking natural disasters to climate warming. Aus Tea party ministers are starting to sound hysterical when they deny that the latest disaster was caused by global warming.
    Investment in the fossil fuel industry is looking more and more risky. The 30 mt/yr Wandoan mine was cancelled.
    Coal fired power stations are shutting down and winding back.
    Fossil power generators are complaining that the growth of renewables is pushing the price they receive down.
    Queenslanders are still investing in rooftop solar despite the FIT dropping to 8 cents/kWh.
    The world is in a chronic economic recession. A war against global warming is one of the most logical ways of ending this recession.

  11. Affogato @ 3, too much on climate change is barely enough! There’s no force of nature I know of preventing other collective members posting on other subjects.

  12. I noted from the NSW 7.30 Report that this weekend marks the start of wholesale demolition and clearing of Winmallee Blue Mountains bushfire destroyed homes….except that some insurers have refused to bankroll this re-build phase leaving the NSW Government to try and fill the void. Couple that with huge increases in flood and cyclone insurance damage from recent Queensland ‘events’ which may have all sorts of implications for Abbott’s ‘populate and develop the north’ drive (white paper coming).
    This could be the achilles heel of the Federal Government’s direct action plan on climate change. When the economy and the business world feel the impact of public frustration over huge cost increases, Abbott will get the message. Was it Harold McMillan who warned of the most difficult threat once in power…”events dear boy, events”.
    Two months in power has shown Abbott unable to deal.

  13. Onthe matter of the progression of human-caused warming, Australia’s Peter Christoff is not exactly optimistic:

    Christoff’s comments are measured and informed, and his observations on the effect of late action should have any genuine leader sitting up in his or her seat.

    In light of these comments I cannot believe the obstinate idiocy of the Coalition, who are willing to destroy their grandchildren’s world for whatever passes as thought in their minds. And they can’t ever say that they weren’t told, because we’re telling them over and over and over again.

  14. Further to my post at # 15 yesterday about Peter Christoff, Matthew England also talks about “Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a Hot World” and about the consequences of the warming that are in train… and about which we’re currently not only not doing anything, but about which the Coalition government is actively seeking to avoid any genuine action at all:

    Listen and weep for your children and grandchildren.

  15. And the weight of science pushing against denialism of the need to act against human-caused climate change grows:

    As I noted at HotWhopper, I’m going to forward this paper to federal politicians, along with a letter posing a number of direct questions intended to ascertain that they have read the paper, and that they understand the significance of the paper, and what are their intended responses to the paper.

    I’d suggest that others might think about doing the same, and sharing any responses they receive.

  16. Bernard J, time for some cat herding!

    While the comments @ 15-17 are not out of place on this thread I’d prefer all sundry information exchanges to take place at Climate clippings, so have made a link there.

    Some people (I’m informed, the majority on blogs in general) don’t read the comments thread. Nevertheless a reader wanting to stay abreast of sundry climate issues should be able to subscribe to the ‘follow-up comments’ feed below the comments box on the CC thread.

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