Climatic Change

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 259–290 | Cite as

Declining Temporal Effectiveness of Carbon Sequestration: Implications for Compliance with the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change

  • L. D. Danny Harvey


Carbon sequestration is increasingly being promoted as a potential response to the risks of unrestrained emissions of CO2, either in place of or as a complement to reductions in the use of fossil fuels. However, the potential role of carbon sequestration as an (at-least partial) substitute for reductions in fossil fuel use can be properly evaluated only in the context of a long-term acceptable limit (or range of limits) to the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, taking into account the response of the entire carbon cycle to artificial sequestration. Under highly stringent emission-reduction scenarios for non-CO2 greenhouse gases, 450 ppmv CO2 is the equivalent, in terms of radiative forcing of climate,to a doubling of the pre-industrial concentration of CO2. It is argued in this paper that compliance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (henceforth, the UNFCCC) implies that atmospheric CO2 concentration should be limited, or quickly returned to, a concentration somewhere below 450 ppmv. A quasi-one-dimensional coupled climate-carbon cycle model is used to assess the response of the carbon cycle to idealized carbon sequestration scenarios. The impact on atmospheric CO2 concentration of sequestering a given amount of CO2 that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere, either in deep geological formations or in the deep ocean, rapidly decreases over time. This occurs as a result of a reduction in the rate of absorption of atmospheric CO2 by the natural carbon sinks (the terrestrial biosphere and oceans) in response to the slower buildup of atmospheric CO2 resulting from carbon sequestration. For 100 years of continuous carbon sequestration, the sequestration fraction (defined as the reduction in atmospheric CO2 divided by the cumulative sequestration) decreases to 14% 1000 years after the beginning of sequestration in geological formations with no leakage, and to 6% 1000 years after the beginning of sequestration in the deep oceans. The difference (8% of cumulative sequestration) is due to an eflux from the ocean to the atmosphere of some of the carbon injected into the deep ocean.The coupled climate-carbon cycle model is also used to assess the amount of sequestration needed to limit or return the atmospheric CO2 concentration to 350–400 ppmv after phasing out all use of fossil fuels by no later than 2100. Under such circumstances, sequestration of 1–2 Gt C/yr by the latter part of this century could limit the peak CO2 concentration to 420–460 ppmv, depending on how rapidly use of fossilfuels is terminated and the strength of positive climate-carbon cycle feedbacks. To draw down the atmospheric CO2 concentration requires creating negative emissions through sequestration of CO2 released as a byproduct of the production of gaseous fuels from biomass primary energy. Even if fossil fuel emissions fall to zero by 2100, it will be difficult to create a large enough negative emission using biomass energy to return atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppmv within 100 years of its peak. However, building up soil carbon could help in returning CO2 to 350 ppmv within 100 years of its peak. In any case, a 100-year period of climate corresponding to the equivalent of a doubled-CO2 concentration would occur before temperatures decreased. Nevertheless, returning the atmospheric CO2concentration to 350 ppmv would reduce longterm sea level rise due to thermal expansion and might be sufficient to prevent the irreversible total melting of the Greenland ice sheet, collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and abrupt changes in ocean circulation that might otherwise occur given a prolonged doubled-CO2 climate. Recovery of coral reef ecosystems, if not already driven to extinction, could begin.


Carbon Sequestration United Nations Framework Convention Negative Emission Deep Geological Formation Sequestration Scenario 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, E. E., Caulfield, A. J., Herzog, H. J., and Auerbach, D. I.: 1997, 'Impacts of Reduced pH from Ocean CO2 Disposal: Sensitivity of Zooplankton Mortality to Model Parameters', Waste Management 17, 375–380.Google Scholar
  2. Aggarwal, P. K. and Mall, R. K.: 2002, 'Climate Change and Rice Yields in Diverse Agro-Environments of India. II. Effect of Uncertainties in Scenarios and Crop Models on Impact Assessment', Clim. Change 52, 331–343.Google Scholar
  3. Andronova, N. G. and Schlesinger, M. E.: 2001, 'Objective Estimation of the Probability Density Function for Climate Sensitivity', J. Geophys. Res. 106, 22605–22611.Google Scholar
  4. Arnell, N. W., Cannell, M. G. R., Hulme, M., Kovats, R. S., Mitchell, J. F. B., Nicholls, R. J., Parry, M. L., Livermore, M. T. J., and White, A.: 2002, 'The Consequences of CO2 Stabilization for the Impacts of Climate Change', Clim. Change 53, 413–446.Google Scholar
  5. Auerbach, D. I., Caulfield, J. A., Adams, E. E., and Herzog, H. J.: 1997, 'Impacts of Ocean CO2 Disposal on Marine Life: 1. A Toxicological Assessment Integrating Constant-Concentration Laboratory Assay Data with Variable-Concentration Field Exposure', Environ. Model. Assess. 2, 333–343.Google Scholar
  6. Azar, C. and Rodhe, H.: 1997, 'Targets for Stabilization of Atmospheric CO2', Science 276, 1818–1819.Google Scholar
  7. Byrer, C. W. and Guthrie, H. D.: 1999, 'Coal Deposits: Potential Geological Sink for Sequestering Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Power Plants', in Riemer, P., Eliasson, B., and Wokaun, A. (eds.), Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies, Elsevier Science, New York, pp. 181–187.Google Scholar
  8. Caldeira, K., Herzog, H. J., and Wickett, M. E.: 2001, 'Predicting and Evaluating the Effectiveness of Ocean Carbon Sequestration by Direct Injection', presented at the First National Conference on Carbon Sequestration, Washington, D.C., 14-17 May 2001.Google Scholar
  9. Cox, P. M., Betts, R. A., Jones, C. D., Spall, S. A., and Totterdell, I. J.: 2000, 'Acceleration of Global Warming Due to Carbon-Cycle Feedbacks in a Coupled Climate Model', Nature 408, 184–187.Google Scholar
  10. Daly, H. E.: 1996, Beyond Growth, Beacon Press, Boston, 253 pp.Google Scholar
  11. Daly, H. E. and Cobb, J. B.: 1989, For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future, Beacon Press, Boston, 482 pp.Google Scholar
  12. Darwin, R. and Kennedy, D.: 2000, 'Economic Effects of CO2 Fertilization of Crops: Transforming Changes in Yield into Changes in Supply', Environ. Model. Assess. 5, 157–168.Google Scholar
  13. David, J. and Herzog, H.: 2000, 'The Cost of Carbon Capture', in Fifth International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies, Cairns, Australia, 13-16 August 2000.Google Scholar
  14. Dennis, C.: 2002, 'Reef under Threat from “Bleaching” outbreak', Nature 415, 947.Google Scholar
  15. Drange, H., Alendal, G., and Johannessen, O. M.: 2001, 'Ocean Release of Fossil Fuel CO2: A Case Study', Geophys. Res. Lett. 22637–2640.Google Scholar
  16. Edmonds, J. and Reilly, J.: 1983, 'A Long-Term Global Energy-Economic Model of Carbon Dioxide Release from Fossil Fuel Use', Energy Economics 5, 74–88.Google Scholar
  17. Forest, C. E., Stone, P. H., Sokolov, A. P., Allen, M. R., and Webster, M. D.: 2002, 'Quantifying Uncertainties in Climate System Properties with the Use of Recent Climate Observations', Science 295, 113–117.Google Scholar
  18. Gitay, H. et al.: 2001, 'Ecosystems and their Goods and Services', in McCarthy, J. J., Canziani, O. S., Leary, N.A., Dokken, D. J., and White, K. S. (eds.), Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 235–342.Google Scholar
  19. Harvey, L. D. D.: 1989, 'Managing Atmospheric CO2', Clim. Change 15, 343–381.Google Scholar
  20. Harvey, L. D. D.: 2000, Global Warming: The Hard Science, Prentice Hall, Harlow, U.K., 336 pp.Google Scholar
  21. Harvey, L. D. D.: 2002, 'A Quasi-One-Dimensional Coupled Climate-Carbon Cycle Model. Part II: The Carbon Cycle Component', J. Geophys. Res.-Oceans 106, 22355–22372, 2001.Google Scholar
  22. Harvey, L. D. D.: 2003, 'Impact of Deep-Ocean Carbon Sequestration on Atmospheric CO2 and on Surface-Water Chemistry', Geophys. Res. Lett. 30 (5), doi:10.1029/2002GL016224.Google Scholar
  23. Harvey, L. D. D.: 2004, 'Climatic Change Drivers', in Lovejoy, T. and Hannah, L. (eds.), Climate Change and Biodiversity, Yale University Press, accepted.Google Scholar
  24. Harvey, L. D. D.: 2005, Energy and the New Reality: Facing up to Climatic Change, Island Press, Washington, in preparation.Google Scholar
  25. Harvey, L. D. D. and Huang, Z.: 2001, 'A Quasi-One-Dimensional Coupled Climate-Carbon Cycle Model, Part 1: Description and Behavior of the Climate Component', J. Geophys. Res.-Oceans 106, 22339–22353.Google Scholar
  26. Harvey, L. D. D. and Kaufmann, R. K.: 2002, 'Simultaneously Constraining Climate Sensitivity and Aerosol Radiative Forcing', J. Climate 15, 2837–2861.Google Scholar
  27. Haugan, P. M. and Drange, H.: 1996, 'Effects of CO2 on the Ocean Environment', Energy Convers. Mgmt 37, 1019–1022.Google Scholar
  28. Haugen, H. S. and Eide, L. I.: 1996, 'CO2 Capture and disposal: The Realism of Large-Scale Scenarios', Energy Convers. Mgmt 37, 1061–1066.Google Scholar
  29. Herzog, H. J.: 2001, 'What Future for Carbon Capture and Sequestration?', Environmental Science and Technology 35, 148–153.Google Scholar
  30. Hoegh-Guldberg, O.: 1999, 'Climate Change, Coral Bleaching and the Future of the World's Coral Reefs', Mar. Freshwater Res. 50, 839–866.Google Scholar
  31. Hoffert, M. I. et al.: 1998, 'Energy Implications of Future Stabilization of Atmospheric CO2 Content', Nature 395, 881–884.Google Scholar
  32. Holloway, S.: 2001, 'Storage of Fossil Fuel-Derived Carbon Dioxide beneath the Surface of the Earth', Annu. Rev. Energy Environ. 26, 145–166.Google Scholar
  33. Houghton, J. T., Ding, Y., Griggs, D. J., Noguer, M., van der Linden, P. J., Dai, X., Maskell, K., and Johnson, C. A. (eds.): 2001, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Appendix II, SRES Tables, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 799–826.Google Scholar
  34. International Energy Agency (IEA): 2001a, Carbon Dioxide Capture from Power Stations, OECD, Paris (available at: Scholar
  35. International Energy Agency (IEA): 2001b, Carbon Dioxide Disposal from Power Stations, OECD, Paris (available at: Scholar
  36. International Energy Agency (IEA): 2001c, Ocean Storage of CO 2, OECD, Paris (available at: Scholar
  37. Ishitani, H. et al.: 1996, 'Energy Supply Mitigation Options', in Watson, R. T., Zinyowera, M. C., and Moss, R. H. (eds.), Climate Change 1995-Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific Analysis, Cambridge University Press, pp. 585–647.Google Scholar
  38. Keith, D. W. and Rhodes, J. S.: 2002, 'Bury, Burn or Both: A Two-for-One Deal on Biomass Carbon and Energy', Clim. Change 54, 375–377.Google Scholar
  39. Kheshgi, H. S. and Archer, D. E.: 1999, 'Modelling the Evasion of CO2 Injected into the Deep Ocean', in Riemer, P., Eliasson, B., and Wokaun, A. (eds.), Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies, Elsevier Science, New York, pp. 287–292.Google Scholar
  40. Kleypas, J.: 1998, 'Symposium Participants Assess Future of Coral Reefs', EOS 79 (21), 249, 251, 253.Google Scholar
  41. Kleypas, J.: 1999, 'Geochemical Consequences of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Coral Reefs', Science 284, 118–120.Google Scholar
  42. Knutti, R., Stocker, T. F., Joos, F., and Plattner, G.-K.: 2002, 'Constraints on Radiative Forcing and Future Climate Change from Observations and Climate Model Ensembles', Nature 416, 719–723.Google Scholar
  43. Langdon, C., Takahashi, T., Sweeney, C., Chipman, D., Goddard, J., Marubini, F., Aceves, H., Barnett, H., and Atkinson, M.: 2000, 'Effect of Calcium Carbonate Saturation State on the Calcification Rate of an Experimental Coral Reef', Global Biogeochem. Cycles 14, 639–654.Google Scholar
  44. Lazarus, M. L., Greber, L., Jall, J., Bartels, C., Bernow, S., Hansen, E., Raskin, P., and von Hippel, D.: 1993, Towards a Fossil Fuel Free Energy Future: The Next Energy Transition, Technical Analysis for Greenpeace International, Stockholm Environmental Institute Boston Center.Google Scholar
  45. Lutz, W., Sanderson, W., and Scherbov, S.: 2001, 'The End of World Population Growth', Nature 412, 543–545.Google Scholar
  46. Marland, G., Boden, T. A., and Andres, R. J.: 2002, 'Global, Regional, and National Fossil Fuel CO2 Emissions', in Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, TN, U.S.A.Google Scholar
  47. Metting, F. B., Smith, J. L., Amthor, J. S., and Isaurralde, R. C.: 2001, 'Science Needs and New Technology for Increasing Soil Carbon Sequestration', Clim. Change 51, 11–34.Google Scholar
  48. Metzger, R. A. and Benford, G.: 2002, 'Sequestration of Atmospheric Carbon through Permanent Disposal of Crop Residue', Clim. Change 49, 11–19.Google Scholar
  49. Metzger, R. A., Benford, G., and Hoffert, M. I.: 2001, 'To Bury or Burn: Optimum Use of Crop Residues to Reduce Atmospheric CO2', Clim. Change 54, 369–374.Google Scholar
  50. Morgan, M. G., Pitelka, L. F., and Shevliakova, E.: 2001, 'Elicitation of Expert Judgments of Climate Change Impacts on Forest Ecosystems', Clim. Change 49, 279–307.Google Scholar
  51. Nihous, G. C.: 1997, 'Technological Challenges Associated with the Sequestration of CO2 in the Ocean', Waste Management 17, 337–341.Google Scholar
  52. Osborn, T. J. and Wigley, T. M. L.: 1994, 'A Simple Model for Estimating Methane Concentration and Lifetime Variations', Clim. Dyn. 9: 181–193.Google Scholar
  53. Parry, M., Arnell, N., McMichael, T., Nicholls, R., Martens, P., Kovats, S., Livermore, M., Rosenzweig, C., Iglesias, A., and Fischer, G.: 2001, 'Millions at Risk: Defining Critical Climate Change Threats and Targets', Global Environ Change 11, 181–183.Google Scholar
  54. Parson, E. A. and Keith, D. W.: 1998, 'Fossil Fuels without CO2 Emissions', Science 282, 1053–1054.Google Scholar
  55. Peng, T.-H., Takahashi, T., Broecker, W. S., and Olafsson, J.: 1987, 'Seasonal Variability of Carbon Dioxide, Nutrients and Oxygen in the Northern North Atlantic Surface Water: Observations and a Model', Tellus 39B, 439–458.Google Scholar
  56. Prentice, I. C. et al.: 2001, 'The Carbon Cycle and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide', in Houghton, J. T., Ding, Y., Griggs, D. J., Noguer, M., van der Linden, P. J., Dai, X., Maskell, K., and Johnson, C. A. (eds.), Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 183–237.Google Scholar
  57. Ramaswamy, V. et al.: 2001, 'Radiative Forcing of Climate Change', in Houghton, J. T., Ding, Y., Griggs, D. J., Noguer, M., van der Linden, P. J., Dai, X., Maskell, K., and Johnson, C. A. (eds.), Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 349–416.Google Scholar
  58. Riebesell, U., Zondervan, I., Rost, B., Tortell, P. D., Zeebe, R., and Morel, F. M. M.: 2000, 'Reduced Calcification of Marine Plankton in Response to Increased Atmospheric CO2', Nature 407, 364–367.Google Scholar
  59. Riemer, P., Eliasson, B., and Wokaun, A. (eds.): 1999, Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies, Elsevier Science, New York.Google Scholar
  60. Rosenzweig, C., Parry, M. L., Fischer, G., and Frohberg, K.: 1993, Climate Change and World Food Supply, Environmental Change Unit, University of Oxford, Research Report No. 3, 28 pp.Google Scholar
  61. Schlesinger, W. H.: 2000, 'Carbon Sequestration in Soils: Some Cautions Amidst Optimism', Agric. Ecosystems Env. 82, 121–127.Google Scholar
  62. Shirayama, Y.: 1997, 'Biodiversity and Biological Impact of Ocean Disposal of Carbon Dioxide', Waste Management 17, 381–384.Google Scholar
  63. Stocker, T. F., Broecker, W. S., and Wright, D. G.: 1994, 'Carbon Uptake Experiments with a Zonally-Averaged Global Ocean Circulation Model', Tellus, 46B, 103–122.Google Scholar
  64. United Nations: 1992, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, U.N. Doc. A/AC.237/18 (Part II)/Add.1, 15 May 1992.Google Scholar
  65. Wellington, G. M, Glynn, P. W., Strong, A. E., Navarrete, A., Wieters, E., and Hubbard, D.: 2001, 'Crisis on Coral Reefs Linked to Climate Change', EOS 82(1), 1, 5.Google Scholar
  66. White, A., Melvin, G. R. C., and Friend, A. D., 1999: 'Climate Change Impacts on Ecosystem and the Terrestrial Carbon Sink: A New Assessment', Global Environ Change 9, S21–S30.Google Scholar
  67. Wilkinson, C. R.: 1999, 'Global and Local Threats to Coral Reef Functioning and Existence: Review and Predictions', Mar. Freshwater Res. 50, 867–878.Google Scholar
  68. Williams, R. H.: 1998, 'Fuel Decarbonization for Fuel Cell Applications and Sequestration of the Separated CO2', in Ayres, R. U. and Weaver, P. M. (eds.), Ecorestructuring: Implications for Sustainable Development, United Nations University Press, Tokyo, pp. 180–222.Google Scholar
  69. Wolfe, D. W. and Erickson, J. D.: 1993, 'Carbon Dioxide Effects on Plants: Uncertainties and Implications for Modeling Crop Response to Climate Change', in Kaiser, R. U. and Drennen, T. E. (eds.), Agricultural Dimensions of Global Climate Change, St. Lucie Press, Delray Beach Florida, pp. 153–178.Google Scholar
  70. Wolf-Gladrow, D. A., Riebesell, U., Buckhardt, S., and Bijma, J.: 1999, 'Direct Effects of CO2 Concentration on Growth and Isotopic Composition of Marine Plankton', Tellus 51B, 461–476.Google Scholar
  71. Worldwatch Institute, 2002: Vital Signs 2002: The Trends that Are Shaping Our Future, W. W. Norton, New York, 215 pp.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. D. Danny Harvey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations