360 degree view of CO2
As pioneers of global climate change research, we have had a significant impact on international strategies to tackle the challenge of climate change.
The Global Carbon Project, an international programme established in 2001, aims to develop a complete picture of the global carbon cycle and inform climate policy. It has become a definitive source on carbon budgets and draws heavily on UEA's ocean carbon cycle research.
In 2004, Professor Corinne Le Quéré FRS, the current Director of the Tyndall Centre at UEA, instigated the release of annual carbon budgets within the Global Carbon Project.
The first global carbon budget, published in 2006, identified that global carbon emissions were increasing beyond expectations. By 2014, the growth in emissions slowed down to 1% per year where it remained for three years, before rising again more strongly in 2017 and 2018. The latest 2019 data shows that global carbon emissions are set to grow more slowly with a decline in coal burning offset by a strong growth in natural gas and oil use worldwide. Following the evaluation of those trends gives up-to-date insight into the underlying drivers of global CO2 emissions and climate change, and their evolution.
Policies have been successful to varying degrees in deploying low-carbon technologies, such as solar, wind and electric vehicles. But these often add to existing demand for energy rather than displacing technologies that emit CO2, particularly in countries where energy demand is growing. We need stronger policies that are targeted at phasing out the use of fossil fuels.”
Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Professor at UEA's School of Environmental Sciences and Contributor to this year's analysis
Lead researcher Prof Corinne Le Quéré said, "Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three year stable period. This is very disappointing."
The UEA research areas that help inform climate policy are: global carbon budgets, ocean carbon sink, and ocean acidification and iron fertilization. There is also growing expertise in CO2 emissions verification, on understanding policies and actions and how they diffuse across society. UEA research is studying the science underpinning the removal of greenhouse gases, particularly on the feasibility of removal of Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage to identify ways to develop policy incentives to deliver in time and at scale.
Environmental science researchers at UEA have played prominent roles in establishing carbon budgets. Their work on increasing knowledge on the trends in global emissions and sinks of carbon is crucial for maintaining an accurate understanding of the evolution of the world’s climate, determining meaningful targets for reductions in carbon emissions, and providing early warning of weakening in the efficiency of carbon sinks.
UEA researchers have led high profile studies showing the sensitivity of the ocean carbon sink to climate, particularly in the remote Southern Ocean, and demonstrated that it is possible to accurately observe the carbon flux in an ocean basin using instrumented commercial vessels.
Photo: D Bakker: R.V Polarstern at the ice shelf near the German Neumayer station, taken on 13/12/2002 16:00 at 8.19°W 70.51°S during research cruise ANT20/2.
UEA researchers advance understanding of how marine ecosystems contribute to the carbon cycle. They enable iron release experiments in the open ocean with the development of a water-tracking technique. They scrutinize the ecosystems response to iron fertilization and ocean acidification with genomics, lab and ocean field studies, and modeling.
Photo: D Bakker: Gale force winds promote air‐sea carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange over the Southern Ocean during research cruise JR239 on the RRS James Clark Ross.
Our researchers are also pursuing the science of emissions verification using atmospheric trace gas measurements. They are testing a new technique that shows that oxygen measurements in the atmosphere can be used to attribute how much of the atmospheric CO2 concentration is from anthropogenic emissions and how much is due to natural processes.
Our work on the global carbon budget is published annually in the autumn prior to the annual meeting of the UN Conference of the Parties and is disseminated via social media.
This effort supports a better public understanding of climate change, and how the carbon cycle is affecting it. It has contributed to evidence that has informed the text underlying the Paris Agreement and the UK Net Zero emissions reductions target for 2050, which is now in the UK Climate Change Act. Prof. Le Quéré is now part of the Committee on Climate Change that advises the UK government on emissions targets.
Infographic: Global Carbon Project 2019
The global carbon budget research is highly cited by influential opinion sources, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2007. It is the scientific evidence at the base of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. UEA is the university that has made the most substantial and sustained contribution to the IPCC across disciplines.
Le Quéré is a member of the UK Committee on Climate Change and Chairs the French equivalent (Haut Conseil pour le climat), and was co-author of the Royal Society report on Greenhouse Gas Removal commissioned by BEIS. She is also a member of the UK Committee on Climate Change and Chairs the French equivalent (Haut Conseil pour le climat).