The 3 Most Sobering Graphics From the UN’s New Climate Report

Written by Emily Atkin

The overall message of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s newest report is simple: a rapid shift to renewable energy is needed to avert catastrophic global warming. The science behind that message, however, is less simple.

In an attempt to make the message more clear, the IPCC’s report — produced by 1250 international experts and approved by every major government in the world — uses a number of charts to get its point across. Though the charts themselves are very complex, they provide a way to visualize increases in human-caused greenhouse gases, where those gases come from, and what they could do to our climate.

Here are three of the most sobering charts from that report, and what they tell us about the state of our warming world.

Current efforts to reduce greenhouse gases have not been enough.

Credit: IPCC

This chart shows the total amount of human-caused greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere every year since 1970, both from burning fossil fuels and from other industrial processes.

The visualization makes clear that current efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by switching the cleaner technologies and renewable energy have not been enough, as global greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing by at least 1.3 percent every year since 1970. From 2000 to 2010, those emissions were even greater, increasing by 2.2 percent annually.

The report cites high confidence that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and other industrial processes contributed about 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emission increases from 1970 to 2010, and a similar percentage contribution for the more intense increases from 2000 to 2010.

Energy supply is not the only thing driving emission increases.

Credit: IPCC

The circular graph above shows the percentages that different economic sectors contribute directly to total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, while the inner circle shows how much those sectors indirectly contribute emissions through electricity and heat production. The information is from 2010, the most recent year that data is available.

While the graph shows that energy supply contributed the most to man-made global warming (responsible for 35 percent of greenhouse gas emissions), it also makes clear that other industries are also to blame. Agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) is responsible for 24 percent of emissions. Industry, seemingly a description for general business production of goods, was responsible for 21 percent, and buildings responsible for 6 percent.

But even though industry and buildings are seemingly smaller emitters, they become larger through their indirect emissions — i.e., their use of the energy sector itself.

Big changes will be needed to avoid disaster scenarios.

Credit: IPCC

On its face, this graphic looks like it does little to simplify the climate conversation. But on closer look, it shows just how much carbon we can emit in order to avoid a scenario where the world warms by more than 2°C, or 3.6°F, by the year 2100.

Each of the colored strips on this graph is a different emissions “scenario” that the IPCC has tested, where more emissions equal more warming. The little blue strip — representing a scenario where emissions concentrations stay between 430 and 480 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100 — is the one we need to strive for, the IPCC says, if we are to absolutely avoid the 3.6°F warming scenario.

As the IPCC’s first report noted, continued inaction and more carbon emissions would lead to 9°F warming (or higher) for most of the U.S. and Northern Hemisphere landmass, resulting in faster sea level rise, more extreme weather, and collapse of the permafrost sink.

More about what the IPCC’s latest report says can be found here.

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Warren Webber
Warren Webber1 years ago

Live long and prosper!

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

The UN doesn't stop war. The climate is out of their control too.

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H2 years ago

Darn, I wish it was possible to see how copy-and-paste material would come up with all those para breaks BEFORE I'd posted!

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H2 years ago

Brian, I'm sorry I nearly forgot! You asked if particles from mast wake turbulence left the lungs or not. I meant to send you this.

The last sentence is the one that matters!

"Particulate matter," also known as particle pollution or PM, is a complex mixture of
extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a
number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic
chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.

The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems.
EPA is concerned about particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller
because those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and
enter the lungs. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and
cause serious health effects.

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H2 years ago


For something a bit heftier than my last post, try this:–analysis.pdf

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H2 years ago

Brian, in the US the wind no doubt is always blowing somewhere, but in a small country like the UK I can't understand why windless conditions over much of the country entail the wind blowing so strongly elsewhere that it makes up for the deficiency.

I've got some good links, but this one is short enough to make it into one post (I think!)
The wind power varies with the wind speed cubed.

Letters, Daily Telegraph, 4 September 2007

Sir, There is an old saying: "No one ever built a windmill if he could build a
watermill." The wind is an unreliable source of power. It seldom blows steadily and
sometimes not at all.

The power generated by the wind varies with the cube of the wind speed. That means
that if the wind speed drops from 40mph to 20mph, the power output does not drop
by 50 per cent: it drops by 87.5 per cent. At 10mph, the wind produces only 1.56 per
cent of the power generated by a 40mph wind.

The wind can never become a major source of power.

Norman Plastow, Hon Curator, Wimbledon Windmill Museum , London SW19

JL A2 years ago

good reminders

Nikolas K.
Nikolas K2 years ago

Yes industry is a problem but the military are even more of a problem with their weather control experiments with the HAARP set up in Alaska which nobody on care2 dares to mention.

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H2 years ago

This is interesting:

The wind farms that generate enough power to make a few cups of tea.

I was going to write more, but I've been gardening all day, and I'm exhausted.