Carbon Footprint. The impact to the environment

Year 2020.

The year itself has been proved to be a challenge for the society in many different fronts. However and sadly, the biggest challenge – arguably – this year has been one related to health.

Nevertheless, parallel a different threat and challenge was arising on the side. A threat that has been constant, silent, and highly uncontrollable; the effects from the climate change that works in a self-fed cycle.

Digging deeper into climate change; the topic itself can be analyzed from different sides and perspectives, with different defendants and detractors as well. But, here comes as always a but, there is a fact that can be quantified and that no detractor or perspective can look away from reality: The CO2 into the atmosphere that has been increasingly released and that it’s own effects release even more now than ever.

Some numbers.

Based on the information by the Global Carbon Project, “after a three year hiatus with stable global emissions (from 2014 to 2016), CO2 emissions grew by 1.4% in 2017 and 2.1% in 2018 to 37 Gt…” (Giga tons of CO2). Major CO2 gas releases being by – in this order – China, USA, Europe (28), and India.

Graphic available in The global Carbon Project

The statement from the organization was clear. Emissions to date place us in a trajectory for warming that is currently well beyond the 1.5°C, and potentially, 2°C.

Then 2020 happened.

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on 11, March 2020. Measures imposed were ramped up from the isolation of symptomatic individuals to the ban of mass gatherings, mandatory closure of schools and even mandatory confinement, affecting directly the emissions of the gas in a global scale.

The nature climate change made (and published) and effort to measure the temporary reductions in C02 emitted during pandemic times of this 2020. Needed to say, there are some important remarks to understand before reading the numbers as ultimate truth:

  • Systems are not in place to monitor global emissions in real time
  • CO2 emissions are reported as annual values, often released months or even years after the end of the calendar year
  • Fossil fuel use is estimated for some countries at the monthly level, with data usually released a few months later
  • Observations of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere are available in near-real time, but the influence of the natural variability of the carbon cycle and meteorology is large and masks the variability in anthropogenic signal over a short period

Because of the challenges mentioned above, the analysts envisioned the following method to analyze the reduction in CO2:

“… we used a combination of energy, activity and policy data available up to the end of April 2020 to estimate the changes in daily emissions during the confinement from the COVID-19 pandemic, and its implications for the growth in CO2 emissions in 2020. We compared this change in emissions to the mean daily emissions for the latest available year (2019 for the globe) to provide a quantitative measure of relative change compared to pre-COVID conditions.”

Natural climate change – 19 May, 2020

Result:

“The estimated decrease in daily fossil CO2 emissions from the severe and forced confinement of world populations of –17% (–11 to –25%) at its peak are extreme and probably unseen before. Still, these only correspond to the level of emissions in 2006. The associated annual decrease will be much lower (–4.2 to –7.5% according to our sensitivity tests), which is comparable to the rates of decrease needed year-on-year over the next decades to limit climate change to a 1.5 °C warming…

Natural cllimate change – 19 May, 2020

Authors opinion: “… most changes observed in 2020 are likely to be temporary as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport or energy systems. The social trauma of confinement and associated changes could alter the future trajectory in unpredictable ways, but social responses alone, as shown here, would not drive the deep and sustained reductions needed to reach net-zero emissions.”

But the 2020 did it again. The California fires.

Up to the 18th of September, 2020 This year’s fires in California have already burned through 1.4 million hectares (3.4 million acres) of land, and the fire season isn’t set to end for at least a couple of months… (Elizabeth Claire, 2020)

Along with the flames, the outcome is inevitably CO2 emission into the atmosphere, which in turn, accelerates the climate change that provokes it.

It is estimated that the 2020 California wildfires have already generated more than 91 million metric tons of CO2 (Equivalent to 0,91 Gt); in comparison, the total activity of the humanity in a year pre-pandemic times is close to 40 Gt.

Nancy Harris, research manager of Global Forest Watch, said what’s particularly concerning about the California fire CO2 emissions is that it contributes to a multipart climate feedback system that will exacerbate the effects of climate change.

“The emissions are not happening in isolation,” Harris told Mongabay. “They’re part of this larger feedback loop — more emissions causes climate change, which causes more emissions, which causes increasing temperatures. So we’re sort of stuck in this vicious cycle of increasing temperatures, and as the trees and vegetation dry out, [they are] more flammable and susceptible to burning which causes more emissions, which then increases temperatures even further.

Discussion

CO2 plays a huge role in the efforts to reduce the global warmth to the required levels, and yet with all the technology available we cannot measure on a daily basis how much our actions contribute to the emissions of CO2.

The proposal is to take an step forward and start placing efforts in place to measure in a rough – whoever reliable – manner how much CO2 is emitted from the products and services we consume on a daily basis. Only when taking the first steps, they will be able to evolve and become more accurate with time. But for that, the first step must be taken.

Link to the page to ask for guidance on how to measure the carbon footprint.

References

Global energy Growth is Outpacing Decarbonization. (September, 2019) Global Carbon Project. From: https://www.globalcarbonproject.org/global/pdf/GCP_2019_Global%20energy%20growth%20outpace%20decarbonization_UN%20Climate%20Summit_HR.pdf Retrieved on: 20.09.2020

Le Quéré, C., Jackson, R.B., Jones, M.W. et al. Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 647–653 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0797-x

‘Off the chart’: CO2 from California fires dwarf state’s fossil fuel emissions. Alberts, E. Claire. (18th, September 2020). Mongabay. Retrieved on: 20.09.2020 from: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/09/off-the-chart-co2-from-california-fires-dwarf-states-fossil-fuel-emissions/

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