Carbon dioxide (CO₂) is a common gas that is present in the air we breathe and naturally occurs within the earth's crust. In addition to natural sources, man-made CO₂ has increased significantly since the industrial revolution, primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels and changes in land use. Some scientists link this increase in CO₂ and other greenhouse gases to global climate change. In order to reduce the impacts of global climate change, greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by more than half and work must be done to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This will be a difficult challenge that requires balancing the potential environmental impacts with a wide variety of economic, technical and lifestyle changes that may be necessary to reduce emissions. Carbon sequestration is one set of promising technologies and actions to help in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We invite you to learn more about climate change and the potential role of carbon sequestration.
Carbon dioxide emissions
CO₂ emissions from the production and consumption of fossil fuels (primarily coal, oil, and natural gas) are the largest contributor to anthropogenic (man-made) emissions of greenhouse gases. Additional contributors are land use changes such as deforestation and the release of other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide from landfills, agriculture and industrial processes. The graphic below illustrates the growth of CO₂ in the atmospheric concentration over the past decades. It was developed by scientists from Scripps Institute of Oceanology based on data from the Mauna Loa Observatory. The Scripps website
contains extensive information about CO₂ emissions including new tools that link data to maps.
There is widespread agreement in the scientific community that, even with substantial increases in energy efficiency, conservation, and the deployment of non-CO₂-emitting renewable energy technologies, CO₂ emissions are likely to continue to grow for the foreseeable future due to an increasing global population. There is a natural carbon cycle through which plants and other biomass take up CO₂ from the atmosphere, but more CO₂ is emitted than the carbon cycle can naturally take from the atmosphere. Therefore, these future emissions will lead to higher concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere.
Source: The Keeling Curve, A Daily Record of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, available at http://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/
Note: the seasonal variations in atmospheric concentration of CO₂, as depicted in this graph, are due to photosynthesis in the summer, and this natural phenomenon is the basis of terrestrial sequestration discussed in more detail further on in this site.
Climate Change Indicators
Scientists agree that greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as CO₂, act like the windowpanes of a greenhouse by trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is important - without it, our world would be intolerably cold. However, too much of a good thing may be bad for the planet as well. Many scientific models suggest that these higher concentrations of CO₂, and other greenhouse gases, could lead to negative environmental consequences that often are grouped under the terms "global warming," or "climate change."
Efforts to address climate change
One hundred eighty-eight (188) governments, including the United States, ratified a treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which entered into force in 1994. The treaty calls for stabilizing concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere to "prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the global climate." To accomplish this goal, government and industry around the world are working towards implementing a number of strategies:
- Conserving energy by converting and using it more efficiently
- Employing smart grid technology
- Encouraging the adoption of advanced fossil fuel processes and lower- and non-emitting energy sources such as renewable energy (e.g., biomass, solar, wind)
- Capturing and sequestering (storing) CO₂ in underground formations or in soils and vegetation.
The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change
provides an in-depth view of the current state of scientific knowledge relevant to climate change. IPCC assessments provide a scientific basis for governments at all levels to develop climate related policies.
The research being conducted by the MRCSP and the other six regional partnerships in DOE's Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership Program focuses on this last category of technologies, capturing and storing CO₂ in various geologic formations and in terrestrial lands. The MRCSP recognizes that it will take a broad portfolio of energy technologies and actions to address climate change.
Studying Climate Change
Scientists have been studying climate change for decades; thus, there is far more information available than can be put on this Web site. The MRCSP has made an effort to introduce the topic and provide links to additional resources
and frequently asked questions and responses. Thank you for taking the time to learn about this issue and the work of the MRCSP.