Are carbon sinks keeping up with emissions increase?

While natural carbon sinks have historically been able to absorb over half of global carbon dioxide emissions, this may no longer be the case if these emissions continue to increase as they have, say scientists from leading climate research group the Global Carbon Project (GCP).

In addition, carbon dioxide emissions are still rising, to reach an all-time high of 1.3 tonnes of carbon per capita per year. While 2008 saw minor decreases in carbon emissions from oil and deforestation, increased coal use meant that emissions still rose overall.

The research, to be published in Nature Geoscience, suggests that the current growth in carbon dioxide emissions is closely linked to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth.  As a result, and despite the global financial crisis which will see emissions drop slightly, anthropogenic emissions rose by 2% in 2008.  Further, they are likely to increase further when global economies recover, unless mitigation strategies are quickly implemented.

There is also concern over the possibility that natural carbon sinks are absorbing carbon less well than previously, as it suggests that carbon sinks may be negatively affected by climate change and emissions.

The GCP’s annual Global Carbon Budget report, which examines human effects on atmospheric CO2, is contributed to  by over 30 international experts from climate research institutions and is regarded as a benchmark reference for governments and policy-makers globally.

The research paper, titled ‘Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide’, can be found in the SMC Resource Library.


Dr Mike Harvey – Mike Harvey has 26 years of experience working mostly in New Zealand in atmospheric physics and chemistry, and currently leads the research programme at the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) into Drivers and Mitigation of Global Change.  The programme measures and models human influence on the atmosphere from global down to regional scales.  His interests include surface-atmosphere exchange of trace gases and aerosols.

Dr Sara Mikaloff Fletcher – Sara Mikaloff Fletcher has used atmospheric observations and models to estimate methane emissions to the atmosphere, and employed similar techniques to determine air-sea fluxes of CO2 using ocean interior data and ocean general circulation models.  More recently, she has used atmospheric and oceanic models to study the past and present carbon cycle. Sara models carbon cycles at NIWA.

Professor Martin Manning – Professor Martin Manning is the Director of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington.  The Institute was established to build up better links between science and policy in the area of climate change.  Previously, Professor Manning worked in the USA as Director of a Working Group for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that produces the detailed assessments of climate change science for all governments, and in New Zealand where he led research on greenhouse gases and other aspects of climate change first at DSIR and then at NIWA. Last year Martin became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for his services to climate change science.

The recording of the briefing can be listened to below


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