New research projects two percent increase in global emissions in 2017

A new report projects that emissions will have risen about two percent by the time 2017 draws to a close.

Article by Mike Gaworecki.

Delegates at the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany (COP23), which concludes today, were hoping to make progress toward reining in global climate change. But this week also saw the release of new research that shows that, even as the nations of the world (with at least one notable exception, of course) are getting down to the business of meeting the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius or less, we still have not turned the corner in terms of drawing down global carbon emissions.

Throughout the 2000s, total worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from industry and the burning of fossil fuels grew more than three percent per year, on average. But that growth began to slow in the 2010s. Emissions even remained flat the past three years, from 2014 to 2016, bucking the upward trend altogether and providing some cause for cautious optimism that emissions were at last on a more climate-friendly trajectory. But a new report from the Global Carbon Project and the University of East Anglia projects that emissions will have risen about two percent by the time 2017 draws to a close.

Robbie Andrew, a senior researcher at CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, Norway and a co-author of the report, said that the increase in emissions in 2017 shows just how tenuous the recent slowdown in emissions really was — and that the Paris Agreement’s targets can still easily slip out of reach if we don’t take more aggressive action.

“The slowdown in emissions growth from 2014 to 2016 was always a delicate balance, and the likely 2% increase in 2017 clearly demonstrates that we can’t take the recent slowdown for granted,” Andrew said in a statement.

According to the report, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry will reach about 37 billion metric tons in 2017, setting a new record. Emissions from all human activities, including fossil fuel use, industry, and land-use change, is projected to be about 41 billion metric tons, close to the record set in 2015.

Emissions growth in China and other developing countries is largely to blame for the overall increase in 2017, the report states.

China’s emissions are projected to rise 3.5 percent this year, while India’s emissions are projected to rise two percent. Emissions from the United States and European countries are both expected to be down this year, by 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively — rates of decline that are far slower than the 1.2 percent and 2.2 percent average annual declines the U.S. and Europe saw over the previous decade. Carbon emissions from all of the remaining countries, which collectively represent some 40 percent of total global emissions, are expected to increase 2.3 percent.

It’s not possible to say whether 2017 will turn out to be simply a one-time anomaly or the world is actually back on an overall growth trend, but Glen Peters, a research director at CICERO who led one of the studies that informed the new report, said one thing that is clear is that countries must be more ambitious with their individual climate targets if we’re to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius.

“Global commitments made in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions are still not being matched by actions,” Peters said in a statement. “It is far too early to proclaim that we have turned a corner and started the journey towards zero emissions.”Kelly Levin and Ranping Song of the World Resources Institute (WRI), who were not involved in any of the studies underlying the Global Carbon Project report, note in a blog post that research has shown that in order to have a legitimate shot at meeting the two degrees Celsius limit in a cost-effective manner, global emissions must peak no later than 2020. WRI’s own research found that even though 49 countries have already managed to hit peak emissions and have therefore begun an overall downward trajectory, the world is still not taking sufficient collective action to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals and prevent the worst impacts of global warming.

“Currently, even if countries achieve their climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, global emissions are not expected to peak until after 2030,” Levin and Song write. “Per the Paris Agreement, countries should update their national climate plans by 2020. If we are to see different headlines from the Global Carbon Project in the coming years and avoid the most dangerous climate impacts, countries have to peak their emissions as soon as possible, and keep emissions levels moving steadily downward.”

Mongabay correspondent Justin Catanoso reported from COP23 that while the talks were “short on big news or significant steps forward to curb climate change,” there was at least one significant achievement: 19 nations, led by Canada and the United Kingdom, announced their plans to phase out the use of coal by 2030.

Despite the jolt of excitement the coal phase-out generated, many participants in the talks were disappointed with the outcome of the climate talks, according to Catanoso.

In general, developed nations failed to commit to more aggressive emissions reduction goals at COP23. And while the consensus among climate scientists is that most coal-fired power generation needs to be phased out by 2050 if we’re to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals, major coal producers and users like Australia, Germany, India, and the United States did not join the new Global Alliance to Power Past Coal.

“The coal phase-out announcement allows COP23 to end on something of a high note,” Catanoso writes. “However, the big hope for the summit, that the developed nations would pledge to ramp up their Paris carbon-reduction targets, did not materialize. Likewise, attempts to find clear pathways by which developed nations will raise the tens of billions needed for vulnerable developing nations to deal with climate change were blocked — primarily by the United States — until next year.”

Banner image: The 5,400 MW Bełchatów Power Station in Poland – one of the world’s largest coal-fired power stations. Photo via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.