The United Nations UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is tasked to provide negotiators to the Framework Convention on Climate Change with the latest in climate science -- both current data and future predictions. The IPCC released their latest report in April this year.
While very few of us will ever read the full report (over 1000 pages of detail) the 33-page Summary for Policymakers makes grim enough reading.
Half of all carbon dioxide emitted over the last 260 years occurred just in the last 40 years and seems to be increasing exponentially. Global annual greenhouse emission in year 2000 was about 39 giga-tonne (carbon dioxide equivalent). By 2010 this had increased to about 49 giga-tonne. And its showing no sign of slowing.
At this rate, and given population and economic growth, the current atmospheric concentration of 430 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide equivalent will grow to 450 ppm by 2030 and between 750-1,300 ppm by 2100. At this rate the global mean surface temperature in 2100 will be 3.7 to 4.8 deg C above pre-industrial levels. Most scientists consider a 2 degree rise a disastrous. A 4-degree rise would be catastrophic.
.... unless we can significantly de-link our economies from oil, coal and gas.
And this is no small challenge. It implies that we have 35 years to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to 40-70% below what they were in 2010 level, and by 2100, they should have reached near zero.
As one of the planet's larger per-capita carbon emitters, South Africa cannot shirk our responsibility. But this is not made any easier by us being locked into another 40 years of coal-fired future with Medupi and Khusile, amongst the largest coal-fired power-stations in the world, just about to come on-stream. And certainly, in this context, talk of fracking as a "game-changer" seems rather hollow.