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Calculating Carbon

By Pep Canadell

Research supports a new approach to counting net CO2 emissions.

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The world’s ecosystems, mainly forests and oceans, remove around 54% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by deforestation and fossil fuel combustion each year. The concentration of atmospheric CO2 would be increasing more than twice as fast as observed if it were not for these natural sinks. Yet the conservation and management of these ecosystems are rarely part of any domestic and international climate change policies, beyond penalising forest destruction.

In a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change we have suggested a new carbon accounting approach by which national climate change policies could consider the contribution of each emitting region to the increase in atmospheric CO2 and place a value on regional ecosystems or sinks that sequester the CO2.

Developed countries are responsible for more than 80% of atmospheric CO2 from human activities since 1850, but countries and their CO2 emissions also contribute to the creation of CO2 sinks through new plant growth owing to the fertilisation effect of atmospheric CO2 and changes in climate, particularly warming in high latitudes.

Our study analysed the correlations between the year-to-year atmospheric CO2 variations and the changes in temperature and rainfall during El Niño years (when temperatures increase in tropical regions and rainfall decreases) and during large volcanic eruptions (when...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.