Carbon dioxide emissions are expected to reach another record high this year, a new report found Wednesday, with scientists warning the world is losing time to make the drastic reductions needed to avert a climate catastrophe.
In 2019, the world is projected to pump out almost 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide, driven by demand for oil and natural gas, according to an annual report from the Global Carbon Project, an international research initiative focused on sustainability.
Global carbon emissions grew by 1.5% in 2017 and 2.1% in 2018, after plateauing in the middle of the decade.
“Its hard to view slower growth as good news. But nonetheless, compared to last year and 2017 the growth rate was down substantially. What we need is for emissions to decline, not to rise slowly,” Rob Jackson, professor of Earth science at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project, told CNN.
That growth — even if it has slowed — means that the world is not on track to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, which aims to cap global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
To achieve this, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said global net emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” around 2050.
Researchers warn emissions could keep increasing over the next decade unless energy, transportation and industry policies significantly change across the world.
“We’re losing time, the years and decades are marching by and carbon dioxide emissions show no signs of dropping,” Jackson said.
China, the United States, Europe and India account for more than half of global emissions.
But bright spots come from the US and Europe, which both cut their carbon emissions by 1.7% this year, mainly from significantly reducing their use of coal.
The US cut its coal output by 10.5%, and Europe recorded a 10% reduction..
“Coal use in the US has dropped by half in the last 15 years,” Jackson said. “That’s an amazing transition. It’s being replaced partly by natural gas, partly by renewables and also by energy efficiency.”
Coal accounts for about 40% of global emissions, but that’s projected to decline by 0.9% in 2019, according to the report.
Even in China and India — two of the world’s biggest polluters and fastest growing economies — coal use slowed this year.
“Through most of 2019 it was looking as if coal use would grow globally, but weaker than expected economic performance in China and India, and a record hydropower year in India — caused by a strong monsoon — quickly changed the prospects for growth in coal use,” said Robbie Andrew, a Senior Researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Norway, in a statement.
But while total emissions fell in Europe and the US, in China they are projected to grow this year by 2.6% and by 1.8% in India — despite the slowdown in coal use.
“We are witnessing a shift in the dominance of emissions sources — coal emissions are trending down, but oil emissions continue to grow, and natural gas emissions are fast accelerating,” said Dr. Pep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Budget and Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO’s Climate Science Center, in a statement.
The report found that oil and natural gas usage — which emits less CO2, but still contributes to global warming — has continued to rise. Global emissions of natural gas are expected to increase by 2.6% in 2019, the fasted growth of all the fossil fuels. And oil, which is driving up emissions from its heavy use in the transport sector, is projected to rise by 0.9%.
Where we are
The world is now 1.1°C degrees warmer than it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution — a change that has already had a profound effect on the planet and people’s lives.
Last month, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) 2019 Emissions Gap report warned that the commitments countries pledged to limit the climate crisis are nowhere near enough to stave off record-high temperatures.
At the current rate, temperatures are expected to rise 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, the UNEP report stated. To get the Earth back on track to the 1.5-degree goal, global greenhouse gas emissions must fall at least 7.6% every year.
Reducing emissions, particularly from transport and a faster transition to green energy is crucial to get emissions under control and save thousands of lives from pollution, said Jackson, the chair of the Global Carbon Project. “We have to have to stay optimistic and stay focused on reducing emissions every year that goes by and make those temperature targets less likely.”