'Negative' carbon dioxide emissions required - study

Carbon dioxide emissions will need to become "negative" in the second half of this century, with more of the greenhouse gas absorbed than put into the atmosphere, a report warned.

Drastic reductions in greenhouse gases of 85 per cent by 2050 and more in the following years are needed to avoid temperature rises which would lead to dangerous climate change, the State of the World annual report from the Worldwatch Institute said.

The study warned that temperature rises of 2°C - a figure to which the EU is trying to limit global warming to avoid dangerous climate change - would still lead to widescale damage such as species extinction and melting of ice sheets.

And with some scientists warning that CO2 levels are already too high to avoid serious interference with the climate, ways must be found to "draw down" carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Rapid reduction in deforestation is needed, but the uptake of carbon in forests would not be enough on its own.

Technology, including burning plant material, or biomass, to produce energy and then trapping the carbon emissions, or even methods of taking CO2 out of the air and storing it underground could be required.

The Worldwatch Institute said there were a number of key challenges to avoid catastrophic climate change, including innovative technology and changing lifestyles to be less based around consumption, meat-eating and disposable products.

The way humans deal with the land could be a powerful tool in absorbing CO2, with as much as 13 per cent of emissions taken in by soil alone with the right management, the report said.

The US-based environmental research organisation also said the size of the global population could spell the difference between success and failure in balancing human activities and the climate.

A new international climate change deal should acknowledge the role of a smaller world population in reducing emissions and renew commitments to address population not by pressurising people into having fewer children, but meeting the family planning, health and education needs of women.

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