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Keeping tabs on carbon dioxide: A South African perspective on the 2017 Global Carbon Budget

Publication Date: 
Friday, November 17, 2017

The just-released 2017 Global Carbon Budget, an annual update on the carbon budget published through a partnership of the international science community, shows that the increase in fossil fuel emissions was lower than that of a decade ago. Scientists believe that it may point to a global decline in the coming decade. Dr Pedro Monteiro, CSIR chief oceanographer, is one of the co-authors of the report.

Contact Person

David Mandaha

+27 12 841 3654

dmandaha@csir.co.za

The just-released 2017 Global Carbon Budget, an annual update on the carbon budget published through a partnership of the international science community, shows that the increase in fossil fuel emissions was lower than that of a decade ago. Scientists believe that it may point to a global decline in the coming decade. Dr Pedro Monteiro, CSIR chief oceanographer, is one of the co-authors of the report.

The report shows that although there is an estimated increase of approximately 2% in fossil fuel emissions for 2017, after three years of very low growth in emissions, this increase was lower than those a decade ago, and starts to point to a global decline in the coming decade. 

According to the report, published in Earth System Science Data, 2016 was the third year in a row where the growth in global emissions was below 1%, despite global gross domestic product exceeding 3% growth.

Monteiro points out that South Africa still has twice the global average of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per person, compelling the country to re-double on mitigation options that also offer new economic development opportunities and continue enhancing its understanding and observing the role of the Southern Ocean in the evolution of atmospheric CO2 in the coming decade.

Global warming has been mitigated thanks to the ability of our oceans and ecosystems on land to take up the excess CO2. South Africa sits on the edge of one of the most important global carbon sinks, the Southern Ocean, and the CSIR in partnership with the Departments of Science and Technology and Environmental Affairs continue to make significant investments in understanding the Southern Ocean and filling some of the observation gaps in the global carbon network that make the Global Carbon Budget possible.

“South Africa’s ocean science is actively contributing to understanding and assessing the changing status of this important CO2 sink,” says Monteiro.. However, he believes that this contribution needs to grow faster both because of the regional implications and uncertainties about the climate sensitivity of the carbon cycle in the Southern Ocean.

Monteiro says the CSIR is improving the coordination of carbon observations across ocean, land and atmosphere through the South Africa Integrated Carbon Observatory Network (SA-ICON) to best address the quality of information needed to assess the effectiveness of the country’s mitigation objectives and development trade-off risks.

“South Africa’s diplomacy needs to continue to show global leadership in steering the planet to the ambition of limiting warming beyond the damaging 1.5ºC, and Southern Ocean Carbon-Climate research and observations is one way in which the science community can support that,” he says.

The launch of the report comes mid-way through the 23rd session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (CoP) taking place in Bonn, Germany. At this meeting, parties are continuing to build global and regional roadmaps for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. One of the key points of this agreement, contained in Article 2, seeks to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels. Its success depends significantly on a better understanding and anticipation of the feedbacks from the ocean and terrestrial carbon cycles.

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