COP28, carbon budget

The report also found that any dents the COVID-19 pandemic and economic slowdown did put into global carbon emissions, have been reversed now as fossil CO2 emissions are 1.4% above 2019 levels.

Overshooting 1.5°C target seems inevitable: Global Carbon Budget lead researcher

The annual report found global carbon emissions from fossil fuels have risen again, reaching record levels in 2023

Fossil carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reached 36.8 billion tonnes in 2023, up 1.1% from 2022, according to the annual Global Carbon Budget. While the report found fossil CO2 emissions are falling in some regions, Europe and USA included, they are rising overall. 

The research team included the University of Exeter, the University of East Anglia (UEA), CICERO Center for International Climate Research, Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich and 90 other institutions around the world.

Emissions falling, but not fast enough

According to the report, emissions from land-use change (such as deforestation) are projected to decrease slightly. However, these emissions are still too high to be offset by current levels of reforestation and afforestation (new forests), according to the report. 

The report projects total carbon emissions (including net emissions from land-use change) are projected to reach 40.9 GtCO2 in 2023, which is around the same as they were in 2022. But far steeper cuts are needed urgently to meet global climate targets.

The report also found that any dents the COVID-19 pandemic and economic slowdown did put into global carbon emissions, have been reversed now as fossil CO2 emissions are 1.4% above 2019 levels.

“It now looks inevitable we will overshoot the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement, and leaders meeting at COP28 will have to agree to rapid cuts in fossil fuel emissions even to keep the 2°C target alive,” said professor Pierre Friedlingstein, of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute, who led the study. This brings into question the feasibility of the 1.5°C limit goal. 

Breakdown offers some hope

The study found dramatic variations in regional emission trends for 2023. While emissions are projected to increase in India (8.2%) and China (4.0%), the study stated they are likely to decline in the EU (-7.4%), the USA (-3.0%) and the rest of the world (-0.4%). For China, growth in 2023 is explained in part by a delayed rebound post COVID-19 lockdown, and in India, high growth in demand for power is driving coal growth, according to the study. 

The report, however, had some good news. It found CO2 emissions have declined in 26 countries (Belgium, Brazil, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, USA, Zimbabwe) during the previous 10 years while their economies grew. 

Together, they account for 28% of global emissions. The report also found emissions growth is slowing in countries such as China. On average, overall global fossil CO2 emissions grew at +0.5% during 2013-2022, well below the annual growth of 2.6% the decade before––but this is not a downward trajectory, and emissions are still at an all-time high.

However, global emissions from coal (1.1%), oil (1.5%) and gas (0.5%) are all projected to increase. The report warned that if emissions continued at current levels, there is a 50% chance that warming of 1.5°C will be consistently exceeded in about seven years. 

Technologies such as Carbon Dioxide Removal (i.e. excluding nature-based means such as reforestation) are proving to be woefully inadequate. According to the report, current levels of CDR amount to about 0.01 million tonnes CO₂, more than a million times smaller than current fossil CO2 emissions.

Professor Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor at UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences said: “The latest CO2 data shows that current efforts are not profound or widespread enough to put global emissions on a downward trajectory towards Net Zero, but some trends in emissions are beginning to budge, showing climate policies can be effective.”