A South African perspective on the 2017 Global Carbon Budget

The 2017 global carbon budget released, 13 November 2017, shows that although there is an estimated increase in fossil fuel emissions for 2017 ~2%, after three years of very low growth in emissions, this is increase was lower than those a decade ago, and starts to point to a global decline in the coming decade.  South Africa still has twice the global average of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per person, compelling the country to re-double on mitigation options that also offer new economic development opportunities and continue enhancing its understanding and observing the role of the Southern Ocean in the evolution of atmospheric CO2 in the coming decade.

South Africa sits on the edge of one of the most important global carbon sinks, the Southern Ocean, and the CSIR with DST and DEA continue to make significant investments in understanding the Southern Ocean and filling some of the observation gaps in the global carbon network that make the Global Carbon Budget possible. The CSIR’s Dr Pedro Monteiro who is also one of the co-authors of the report published in Earth System Science Data today leads this work. According to the report, 2016 was the third year in a row where global emissions are below 1% growth, despite global gross domestic product exceeding 3% growth.

South Africa’s ocean science is already actively contributing to understanding and assessing the changing status of this important CO2 sink,” he says. However, he believes that this contribution needs to grow faster both because of the regional implications and uncertainties about the climate sensitivity of the carbon cycle in the Southern Ocean.  It also serves as a platform for the advanced scientific and technological skills needed by the South African economy to achieve its development objectives.


The CSIR is also improving the coordination of carbon observations across ocean, land and atmosphere through the South Africa Integrated Carbon Observatory Network (SA-ICON) to best address the quality of information needed to assess the effectiveness of the country’s mitigation objectives and development trade-off risks.


“South Africa’s diplomacy needs to continue to show global leadership in steering the planet to the ambition of limiting warming beyond the damaging 1.5ºC, and Southern Ocean Carbon – Climate research and observations is one way in which the science community can support that” says Monteiro who is also a chief scientist and Oceanographer at the CSIR. 

This launch comes mid-way through the 23rd session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (CoP) taking place in Bonn, Germany. At this meeting, parties will continue to build global and regional roadmaps for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. One of the key points of this agreement, contained in Article 2, seeks to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels. Its success also depends significantly on a better understanding and anticipation of the feedbacks from the ocean and terrestrial carbon cycles. 


Pedro M.S. Monteiro


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