Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Reach Record High

Protests outside the climate change meetings in Bonn, Germany / Sputnik International

After three years of flat carbon dioxide emissions, the burning of fossil fuels is expected to reach a record high in 2017, increasing global CO2 emissions by 2 percent to 41 billion tons. According to the Global Carbon Project, which published its findings in three scientific journals, the increase is driven in part by rising coal use in China. The report authors note, however, that there are uncertainties in the data, and actual growth figure could be anywhere from 0.8 to 3 percent.

Explained another way: the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was 403 parts per million (ppm) in 2016 and is now expected to reach 405.5 in 2017. PPM levels must stabilize before they reach 450, which is viewed as the very uppermost safe limit determined by the scientific community; safe levels are viewed as 350 ppm.

To keep the global carbon dioxide ppm levels below 450, which corresponds to a 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature increase, countries party to the Paris climate accord agreed to reach peak emissions by 2020 — with China and India given another decade — and then decline to zero emissions by the end of the century.

The Guardian writes: “whether the anticipated increase in CO2 emissions in 2017 is just a blip that is followed by a falling trend, or is the start of a worrying upward trend, remains to be seen.”

China’s emissions, which account for nearly a third of the total, are estimated to rise this year by 3.5 percent, as local governments invested in construction and infrastructure projects to boost economic growth.

On Chinese emissions, Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner, told The Wire: “This year many local governments reverted to the old playbook of using infrastructure and construction projects to create demand and prop up local economies. In many regions that has meant rolling back on the restructuring of the economy and an uptick in smokestack industry output.”

U.S. emissions are down just 0.4 percent, a fall from an average reduction of 1.2 percent over the past decade. The New York Times writes: “Much of the fall in American emissions has come as increasing supplies of natural gas, wind and solar power have driven hundreds of coal plants into retirement. But emissions from sectors like transportation and buildings remain stubbornly high, and with the Trump administration dismantling domestic climate policies, it is unclear how far the country’s emissions will continue to fall in the coming years.”

(Amid the push to deregulate the coal industry and boost fossil fuel production, the Trump administration released and then downplayed the latest National Climate Assessment, but didn’t interfere in the scientific process. The Washington Post writes that the comprehensive assessment, which states that sea levels could rise 1 to 4 feet by 2100, paints a picture counter to administration policy goals: “The report could have considerable legal and policy significance, providing new and stronger support for the EPA’s greenhouse-gas ‘endangerment finding’ under the Clean Air Act, which lays the foundation for regulations on emissions.”)

And EU emissions reductions in 2017 — just 0.2 percent — are significantly lower than the 2.2 percent decline seen over the past decade. This is especially worrying as Europe bills itself as a climate leader.

There are some positive trends though: India’s emissions grew just 2 percent, down from the 6 percent average seen over the past decade. In total, The New York Times reports, “at least 21 countries have managed to cut their emissions significantly while growing their economies over the past decade, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Sweden. These countries have steadily transitioned away from energy-intensive industries — or have outsourced manufacturing to countries like China — while increasing investments in efficiency and cleaner energy.”

The signatories of the Paris climate accord are now meeting in Bonn, Germany, to review and hopefully ratchet up the voluntary commitments each country makes to reduce their carbon emissions. Causing protests, the Trump administration hosted a panel promoting coal and nuclear power, which included a delegation of fossil fuel executives. Former Vice President Al Gore and other Democratic senators and governors also staged an “anti-Trump revolt” at the conference, arguing the federal government doesn’t represent all of the U.S., and many cities and states are still aiming to achieve the U.S.’s prior commitments made under Obama.

Meanwhile, Global Carbon Project lead researcher Corinne Le Quéré, a professor at the University of East Anglia, told Wired more countries must follow Britain’s lead if the world is going to reach zero emissions between 2050 and 2100. To do so, they need to enact tough legislation that requires reductions: “The world needs to follow by the UK’s example. The Climate Change Act commits us to reducing our CO2 emissions by 80 per cent of what they were in 1990. If every nation had one of those, by 2050 we will be well on the way to a low carbon economy globally.”

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