Many of the world’s nations are set to meet in Paris this December to hash out a climate change deal. But how did we get ourselves into this mess? Who’s most responsible? What do scientists say about the future?
The Global Carbon Atlas is a pretty good place to understand the whole thing. Based on a range of authoritative data, it maps emissions historically and from different causes, shows how countries contributed, and explains the consequences of different methods to fix the problem.
Click on the “future” tag in the “outreach” section, then play with the toggle on the right hand side, moving future emissions up and down. With carbon dioxide levels at 400 parts per million, temperatures rise only between 0.9 and 2.3 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels (scientists generally see 2 degrees as a relatively safe limit). Forty percent of Arctic ice melts and sea levels rise by an average of half a meter. But it’s not too bad, relatively speaking. At 700 ppm, vegetation becomes less efficient at trapping CO2 from the atmosphere (increasing climate effects) and global flooding increases 10 times over what we have today. It’s bad. At 900 ppm … you don’t really want to know.
The emissions mapping section is a little more complex. Toggle the timeline at the bottom and see how countries’ emissions change over time relative to each other. Also see how countries rank for cumulative emissions–an important data point in Paris, as developing countries argue that they’ve released less carbon historically and therefore should have greater leeway going forward.