Halfway to climate change catastrophe: Total amount of carbon burnt since the industrial revolution must not exceed one trillion tonnes, say scientists

Experts have calculated that about 570bn tonnes, or 57 per cent, has been burnt in the past three centuries - meaning the tipping point on carbon emissions is now only 30 years away

A A A

The world has already burnt more than half the maximum amount of fossil fuel that can be consumed if catastrophic levels of global warming are to be avoided, scientists have calculated. In a finding expected to be included in the most comprehensive report ever made into climate change, researchers also warn that we are on course to use up our entire global carbon allowance within 30 years.

Scientists estimate that if global warming is to have an above-average chance of remaining below the crucial 2C level – beyond which the consequences of climate change are expected to become increasingly devastating – the total amount of carbon burnt since the industrial revolution must not exceed one trillion tonnes.

This is because CO2 can remain in the atmosphere for more than 200 years, giving the greenhouse gas a cumulative impact.

The scientists calculate that about 570bn tonnes, or 57 per cent, of the trillion tonnes has been burnt in the past three centuries.

However, the rapid economic growth in developing countries has put the world on course to burn the remaining 330bn tonnes at accelerating speed – by about 2040, unless drastic action to curb emissions is taken.

Although the final numbers may differ slightly, they are among the key findings likely to be published next week in the most authoritative report ever conducted into climate science – the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment, known as AR5.

This section of the report will be strongly influenced by two papers co-authored by Professor Myles Allen, of the University of Oxford, who is also a lead author on the forthcoming IPCC report. He would not comment on next week’s report but his research – published in Nature and the Journal of Climate, in 2009 and 2013 – is known to form an integral part of the study.

The publication of the IPCC report on Friday will come five months after the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere breached the symbolically important level of 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in five million years after rising at its fastest rate since records began.

Experts blamed most of the increase on rising emissions from China and India, which still rely heavily on coal for their energy, but said other factors could also be partially responsible, such as reduced absorption by forests and plants.

About 50bn tonnes of CO2 is emitted globally a year, with the average global citizen producing 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide, compared to about 10 tonnes in the UK.

Scientists estimate global emissions need to come down to about 20bn tonnes a year if the world is to have a fair chance of limiting global warming to 2C.

Professor Allen stressed that with so much still unknown about climate change, the findings in his research and, by extension, the IPPC report, deal in probabilities rather than certainties. However, the vast majority of scientists agree that the fundamental trends are clear.

Next week’s IPCC report is expected to make clear that scientists have never been more certain that humans are causing climate change. According to a sentence in a draft of the report, which could still change: “It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution