Carbon emissions from fossil fuels ‘climb to new highs’ and still rising

Carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels ‘has risen 1 per cent on 2021 levels’

Samuel Webb
Friday 11 November 2022 09:53 GMT
Rishi Sunak promises to reach carbon emissions goal after attending Cop27

Global carbon emissions remain at record highs, with no sign of the fall urgently needed to curb the climate crisis, scientists have warned.

If the world continues with current levels of emissions, there is a 50 per cent chance that global temperature rises will hit 1.5C – a threshold beyond which the worst impacts of climate change are expected – in nine years, they said.

Emissions would have to fall at rates comparable to 2020 – when Covid-19 restrictions shut down transport, industry and economic activities – every year to keep temperature rises to 1.5C in the long term, the experts say.

But carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels has risen 1 per cent on 2021 levels, the analysis from the Global Carbon Project says, and is now slightly above the record levels seen in 2019.

The increase in carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, including cement production, is due to the ongoing recovery from the pandemic and the energy crisis caused by the invasion of Ukraine, the researchers said.

Total carbon emissions for 2022, which also includes deforestation and other land use changes, are set to be around 40.6 billion tonnes, up slightly from 2021 and close to the record 40.9 billion tonnes emitted pre-pandemic in 2019.

The Global Carbon Project has involved more than 100 scientists from 80 organisations across 18 countries, and its results – published in the journal Earth System Science Data – come as countries meet for the latest round of climate talks at Cop27, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

While the rate of growth in emissions has slowed, the world is not taking the action required to make them peak and decline rapidly to limit temperature rises, the scientists said.

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, from the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute, who led the study said: “This year we see yet another rise in global fossil carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, when we need a rapid decline.

“There are some positive signs, but leaders meeting at Cop27 will have to take meaningful action if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming close to 1.5C.”

Professor Corinne Le Quere, from the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “Our findings reveal turbulence in emissions patterns this year resulting from the pandemic and global energy crises.

“If governments respond by turbo-charging clean energy investments and planting, not cutting, trees, global emissions could rapidly start to fall.”

Restoring and increasing forest cover is an opportunity to reduce emissions, the researchers said (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

She said there was evidence that climate policy could work, with emissions growth slowing significantly in recent years, since the Paris Agreement to limit warming to well below 2C or to 1.5C, and the future was in people’s control.

“We are at a turning point and must not allow world events to distract us from the urgent and sustained need to cut our emissions to stabilise the global climate and reduce cascading risks,” she said.

The report showed that in 2022 emissions from oil are up 2.2 per cent on last year, largely due to a continued rebound in aviation post-pandemic.

Coal emissions are also up 1 per cent – probably exceeding what was thought to be the peak in 2014 – with rises in the EU as the war in Ukraine squeezed energy supplies for the bloc, as well as in India.

But China and the US have seen a drop in pollution from coal, the analysis shows.

Among the major polluters, it is a mixed picture, with emissions projected to fall in China by 0.9 per cent and in the EU by 0.8 per cent but increase in the US by 1.5 per cent and India by 6 per cent, with a 1.7 per cent rise across the rest of the world.

Land use changes, in particular deforestation, are projected to cause 3.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions following a small but uncertain decline over the past two decades.

Just three countries, Indonesia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo contribute more than half (58 per cent) of emissions from land use change.

Pallavi Das, Programme Associate, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) said while the focus was often on the historical responsibility for emissions, it was important to look at the future responsibility, and called on China, EU and the US to speed up their net zero plans.

Reforestation and new forests counter balances around half of the emissions from cutting down trees, so stopping deforestation and increasing efforts to restore and increase forest cover is a big opportunity to reduce emissions, the researchers said.

The report shows that the levels of carbon dioxide – the most significant greenhouse gas – in the atmosphere are projected to average 417 parts per million (ppm) in 2022, 51 per cent above pre-industrial levels.

Scientists have warned that in order to keep global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels in the long run, the world has to cut carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by around 2050.

Net zero means no more CO2 is being emitted than is being absorbed by landscapes such as forests, and oceans, or through technology.

To meet that target, emissions would have to fall by 1.4 billion tonnes a year – comparable to falls in 2020 at the height of pandemic lockdowns.

If total CO2 output continues at 2022 levels, the remaining carbon “budget” for the emissions that can be put into the atmosphere and still keep global warming to 1.5C will be fully exhausted in nine years.

And there is a 50 per cent chance that global average temperature rises, driven by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, will cross the 1.5C threshold at around the same time, the researchers said.

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