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Global carbon emissions creep to record high in 2019
Increase in greenhouse gas emissions means the world looks likely to overshoot Paris Agreement target – even with declines in coal use
Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are believed to have risen – albeit modestly – for the third year in a row, according to newly-issued estimates from the Global Carbon Project (GCP). While renewable energy is rapidly expanding across the world, and coal use in the US and Europe is down dramatically, rising gas and oil consumption has pushed atmospheric CO2 levels to new highs.
Each year, the GCP – an international group of climate scientists – issues its analysis of trends in the global carbon cycle. In light of the findings for 2019, participating researchers have warned that aggressive emissions reductions will be necessary to help the world align with the goals of the Paris Agreement and keep global warming well below 2°C. Levels of CO2 are expected to hit a record 37bn tonnes this year.
‘Global commitments made in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions are not yet being matched by proportionate actions,’ says Glen Peters, Research Director at the Oslo-based Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research. ‘Despite political rhetoric and rapid growth in low carbon technologies such as solar and wind power, electric vehicles, and batteries, global fossil CO2 emissions are likely to be more than 4% higher in 2019 than in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was adopted.’
Land transport accounted for 50% of emissions use globally and grew at 1.8% per year in the past decade as a result of growth in demand for transport services. Demand for energy is outpacing development in renewables and clean technologies, which means that these solutions generally meet new energy demand rather than replacing CO2-emitting incumbents.
In many industrialised regions, including the US, annual CO2 emissions are decreasing slowly. However, they’re growing rapidly in many countries, such as China, where they will rise an estimated 2.6% this year. The GCP found that about 40% of global CO2 emissions could be attributed to the combustion of coal, with oil and natural gas contributing 34% and 20%, respectively. The remaining 6% of emissions come from cement production and other sources.
Though coal, widely known as the most polluting of all fossil fuels, remains a factor in global emissions, its influence is waning. Consumption of the combustible rock is expected to drop by 11% in the US this year – down 50% from its 2005 peak – and will be replaced by cheaper natural gas and renewables. Even in China, which accounts for half of all global coal use, growth in demand slowed to 0.8% this year following an economic downturn.
Meanwhile, a plentiful supply of cheap natural gas means that use of the so-called ‘bridge fuel’ has surged – with an attendant CO2 emissions increase of 2.6% this year. Significantly, rising natural gas consumption accounts for 60% of fossil emissions growth in recent years. To counterbalance increasing CO2 output from all fossil energy sources, GCP researchers have called for stringent national policies and global commitments to institute measures such as carbon pricing, as well as to deploy renewables and clean transport solutions.
‘We need every arrow in our climate quiver,’ urges Stanford University scientist Rob Jackson, who leads the GCP. ‘That means stricter fuel efficiency standards, stronger policy incentives for renewables, even dietary changes and carbon capture and storage technologies.’