Global carbon emissions are set to rise for the second year in a row, despite the IPCC's warning to slash emissions | Image credit:

COP24: Global carbon dioxide emissions set to hit record after rising strongly in 2018

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and industry are projected to rise for the second consecutive year in 2018, by more than 2 percent to a new record, mainly due to sustained growth in oil and gas use, according to a leading scientific study released on Wednesday.

The projection by the Global Carbon Project estimates that CO2 emissions will rise a projected 2.7 percent, with an uncertainty range between 1.8 percent and 3.7 percent. In 2017, carbon emissions grew by 1.6 percent after a three year hiatus.

These findings come from the 2018 Global Carbon Budget, published on Wednesday by the Global Carbon Project in the journals Nature, Environmental Research Letters and Earth System Science Data. GCP is sponsored by Future Earth and the World Climate Research Programme.

The announcement comes as nations meet in Katowice, Poland, for the annual United Nations climate negotiations (COP24).

The rapid growth in low carbon technologies are not yet sufficient to cause global emissions to peak, let alone drive emissions aggressively down as required by the Paris agreement (global warming “well below 2°C”).

“The 2018 rise in fossil CO2 emissions place us on a trajectory for warming that is currently well beyond 1.5°C,” said Lead researcher Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. “It is not enough to support renewables. Fossil energy needs to be phased out and efforts to decarbonise need to be expanded throughout the economy.”

This growth in global CO2 emissions puts the goals set out in the Paris Agreement in jeopardy. According to the IPCC, to limit warming well below 2°C, CO2 emissions should decline by about 20 percent by 2030 and reach net zero around 2075; to limit warming below 1.5°C, CO2 emissions should decline by 50 percent by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050.

Global fossil CO2 emissions (fossil fuels, industry and cement) grew at over 3 percent per year in the 2000s, but growth has slowed since 2010, and from 2014 to 2016 emissions remained relatively flat with only a slight increase.

But global energy growth, especially in oil, gas and coal, is effectively outpacing decarbonisation efforts, fuelled by rising coal use and increasing demand for personal transport, freight, aviation and shipping.

“The continued rise in global emissions is deeply concerning. The recent IPCC report on risk of 1.5 degrees warming was a somber wake up call even for many of us deep in the science,” said Future Earth’s executive director Amy Luers. “This news is particularly difficult, when it is clear that we have the technology, the knowledge and business acumen to cut our emissions exponentially. Tackling climate change has now become a win win. We just need to start down the winning path.”

Although global coal use is still 3 percent lower than its historical high, it is expected to grow in 2018, driven by growth in energy consumption in China and India. Oil and gas use have grown almost unabated in the last decade. Gas use has been pushed up by declines in coal use and increased demand for gas in industry. Oil is used mainly to fuel personal transport, freight, aviation and shipping, and to produce petrochemicals.

Budget co-author Glen Peters, research director at CICERO in Oslo, who led one of the studies, said: “The rise in emissions in 2017 could be seen as a one off, but the growth rate in 2018 is even higher, and it is becoming crystal clear the world is failing in its duty to steer onto a course consistent with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015.”


The 2018 carbon budget at a glance

Atmospheric CO2 concentration is set to reach 407 ppm on average in 2018, 45 percent above pre-industrial levels.

Chinese emissions, accounting for 27 percent of global emissions, look set to grow about 4.7 percent (2.0 percent to 7.4 percent) in 2018, reaching a new all-time high. Renewed emissions growth in China seem closely linked to construction activity and economic stimulus.

“There was hope that China was rapidly moving away from coal power generation, but the last two years has shown it will not be so easy for China to say farewell to coal quickly. Coal is likely to dominate the Chinese energy system in the decades ahead, even if the skyrocketing growth seen in the mid-2000s is unlikely to return,” said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Senior Researcher at CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Oslo.

 U.S. emissions, accounting for 15 percent of global emissions, look set to grow about 2.5 percent (+0.5 percent to +4.5 percent) in 2018 (based on figures from the EIA), after several years of declining emissions. This is largely due to weather conditions requiring more heating in cold months and more cooling in hot months. It is expected that U.S. emissions will decline again in 2019, indicating that cheap gas, wind, and solar will continue to displace coal.

Indian emissions, accounting for 7 percent of global emissions, look set to continue their strong growth with about 6.3 percent (4.3 percent to 8.3 percent) in 2018, with growth across all fuels (coal +7.1 percent, oil +2.9 percent, gas +6.0 percent).

EU emissions, accounting for 10 percent of global emissions, look set for a small decline of −0.7 percent (−2.6 percent to 1.3 percent) in 2018, well below the declines of −2 percent per year sustained in the decade up to 2014.

Rest of the World. Emissions in the rest of the world, the remaining 42 percent of global emissions, are expected to grow 1.8 percent (0.5 percent to 3.0 percent) in 2018.

The 10 biggest emitters were China, the U.S., India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Canada, with EU28 as a whole ranking third (full details for top 20 emitters in the table below).

There was also some good news in the report: In 19 countries representing 20 percent of global emissions, emissions decreased without decrease in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the last decade. These were: Aruba, Barbados, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, USA, and Uzbekistan.

The Global Carbon Budget is produced by 76 scientists from 57 research institutions in 15 countries working under the umbrella of the Global Carbon Project (GCP). The budget, now in its 13th year, provides an in-depth look at the amount of fossil fuels that nations around the world burn and where it ends up.

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