This is what carbon climate feedbacks look like! Atmospheric monitoring shows dramatic 2015 CO2 emissions record unfolding

Welcome to the future. 2015: The hottest year on record. With a likely coral bleaching record. And sadly also the year with a likely extreme CO2 emissions record. Because, using satellites, we can see the very positive carbon climate feedbacks [the ones that can create the feared runaway warming scenario] already in live action – on a globally significant scale, just two months before world leaders meet in Paris to agree on a new international climate treaty, during the COP21 climate summit in December in Paris.

carbon climate feedbacks prompting 2015 CO2 emissions record
Two months before the Paris climate summit the world is on fire – literally. This image by Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service shows the world’s two largest tropical rainforest carbon stores are both burning due to extreme drought conditions – and both emitting extremely large amounts of CO2, far larger than any industrial (fossil carbon) point source.

2015: Borneo and the Amazon burning simultaneously, dramatically increasing global CO2 emissions

In 1997 Indonesian drought and forest fires increased global CO2 emissions by 13-40 percent. In 2010 Amazon drought and forest fires increased global antropogenic CO2 emissions (energy and land use!) by an estimated 25 percent.

This year – the dramatic climate year of 2015 – we’ll have a combination of the two, as there is both a prolonged El Niño-induced drought in Indonesia – and simultaneously another months-long drought in Brazil and the Amazon.

The forest fires in Indonesia, and the dramatic air pollution they cause in for instance Singapore, receive media attention across the globe. What seems to go unnoticed is another surge in tropical rainforest wildfires that is currently occuring in Brazil. The Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE) has reported earlier this month that is has already detected over 11,000 forest fires this year, 47 percent more than last year.

Current droughts & forest CO2 emissions illustrate biosphere response to continued global climate warming

Although both the Indonesian drought and (albeit to a lesser extent) the Brazil drought can be attributed to (an antropogenic slash & burn response to) El Niño, which is part of the natural ENSO cycle – with uncertain influence by global climate change – there is strong evidence that continued global warming will increase the likelihood of similar droughts – especially in the Amazon, leading to a positive climate feedback: elevated (fossil) CO2 emissions → higher average temperatures, increased droughts → extra (biosphere) CO2 emissions → further amplified warming, etc.

As science communicators it is our task to show this is not mere scientific theory, proven by model studies and paleoclimatological evidence, but that these positive climate feedbacks can also already be observed in action [not just in the tropics, also around the Arctic!], stressing the urgency to tackle the root causes – and therefore the clear need to come to ambitious global agreements about reducing CO2 emissions – this very year, in Paris.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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