Atmospheric verification of anthropogenic CO2 emission trends

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 26 July 2013

This article has been updated


International efforts to limit global warming and ocean acidification aim to slow the growth of atmospheric CO2, guided primarily by national and industry estimates of production and consumption of fossil fuels. Atmospheric verification of emissions is vital but present global inversion methods are inadequate for this purpose. We demonstrate a clear response in atmospheric CO2 coinciding with a sharp 2010 increase in Asian emissions but show persisting slowing mean CO2 growth from 2002/03. Growth and inter-hemispheric concentration difference during the onset and recovery of the Global Financial Crisis support a previous speculation that the reported 2000–2008 emissions surge is an artefact, most simply explained by a cumulative underestimation ( 9 Pg C) of 1994–2007 emissions; in this case, post-2000 emissions would track mid-range of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emission scenarios. An alternative explanation requires changes in the northern terrestrial land sink that offset anthropogenic emission changes. We suggest atmospheric methods to help resolve this ambiguity.

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Figure 1: Decadal rates of increase in anthropogenic emissions since 1950.
Figure 2: Measurements of atmospheric CO2.
Figure 3: Comparison of anthropogenic emissions and atmospheric trends.
Figure 4: Transport model diagnostic tests.

Change history

  • 20 June 2013

    In the version of this Article originally published, in the 'Atmospheric versus emission trends' section, the second sentence of the third paragraph should have started "An underestimate of FF+LUC, and/or decreased atmospheric sinks..." This error has now been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions.


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G. Pearman’s emphasis on global representativeness during establishment of Australian CO2 monitoring underpins this work. Data used in this report are routinely submitted to the World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases and CDIAC international databases (but in formats that preclude the data selection and uncertainty propagation used in this paper). More comprehensive and recent data, including LoFlo data, are available to researchers by contacting CSIRO GASLAB staff and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology/Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station continue to provide excellence in the operation of developmental equipment and in collection and processing of samples and data. Collection of samples at other sites is carried out with assistance from NOAA (USA), Environment Canada, Australian Antarctic Division and Australian Bureau of Meteorology. R.J.F, M.v.d.S., P.B.K., R.L.L., L.P.S and C.E.A. have been partly financially supported by the Bureau of Meteorology through the Cape Grim programme. R.J.A. was sponsored by US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research (BER) programmes performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) under US Department of Energy contract DE-AC05-00OR22725. CSIRO co-authors have been partly financially supported by the ACCSP (Australian Climate Change Science Program) through the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. A.R.S. is partially supported by an OCE (Office of Chief Executive) post-doctoral award. CCAM model simulations were undertaken on the NCI National Facility in Canberra, Australia, which is supported by the Australian Commonwealth Government. Valuable comments have been received from Y-P. Wang, P. Canadell, P. Rayner and A. Lenton.

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R.J.F, C.M.T. and R.M.L took lead roles in writing this paper. M.v.d.S., R.L.L, L.P.S and C.E.A. contributed to the design and quality control of measurements and P.B.K. developed and provided data processing. R.J.A. provided anthropogenic emissions data and advice. R.M.L. and C.R. designed, and with A.R.S., carried out inversion modelling tests. All authors advised on the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Roger J. Francey or Cathy M. Trudinger.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Francey, R., Trudinger, C., van der Schoot, M. et al. Atmospheric verification of anthropogenic CO2 emission trends. Nature Clim Change 3, 520–524 (2013).

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