climate change global warming

Global carbon emissions remain at record high, research finds

Global carbon emissions in 2022 show no sign of the decrease that is urgently needed to limit warming to 1.5°C, according to the Global Carbon Project science team.

If the world continues with current levels of emissions, there is a 50 per cent chance that global temperature rises will hit only 1.5°C – the threshold imposed by the Paris Climate Agreement – in nine years, they said.

The Global Carbon Project has involved more than 100 scientists from 80 organisations across 18 countries, and its results – published in the journal Earth System Science Data – come as countries meet for the COP27 round of climate talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

The new report projects total global CO2 emissions of 40.6 billion tonnes (GtCO2) in 2022, up slightly from 2021 and close to the record 40.9 billion tonnes emitted pre-pandemic in 2019.

The main driver of this growth is expected to be emissions from oil and gas, which are projected to rise 1.0 per cent compared to 2021, reaching 36.6 GtCO2. The increase in this type of emissions is likely explained by the delayed rebound of international aviation after the pandemic, as well as the energy crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.   

Given the report's findings, scientists have warned that emissions would have to fall at rates comparable to 2020 every year to keep temperature rises to 1.5°C in the long term. 

“This year we see yet another rise in global fossil carbon dioxide emissions, when we need a rapid decline," said Professor Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute, who led the study. 

“There are some positive signs, but leaders meeting at COP27 will have to take meaningful action if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming close to 1.5°C.”

According to the researchers, this year's carbon budget shows that the long-term rate of increasing fossil emissions has slowed. The average rise peaked at +3 per cent per year during the 2000s, while growth in the last decade has been about +0.5 per cent per year.

The 2022 picture among major emitters is mixed: emissions are projected to fall in China (by 0.9 per cent) and the EU (0.8 per cent), and increase in the USA (1.5 per cent) and India (6 per cent), with a 1.7 per cent rise in the rest of the world combined.

The research team welcomed this slowdown, but said it was still not enough to prevent the worst of climate change. 

“Our findings reveal turbulence in emissions patterns this year resulting from the pandemic and global energy crises," said Professor Corinne Le Quere from the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences. “If governments respond by turbo-charging clean energy investments and planting, not cutting, trees, global emissions could rapidly start to fall.

“We are at a turning point and must not allow world events to distract us from the urgent and sustained need to cut our emissions to stabilise the global climate and reduce cascading risks. 

Reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 would now require a decrease of about 1.4 GtCO2 each year, comparable to the observed fall in 2020 emissions resulting from Covid-19 lockdowns, highlighting the scale of the action required, the team has said. 

The report shows that the levels of carbon dioxide – the most significant greenhouse gas – in the atmosphere are projected to average 417 parts per million (ppm) in 2022, 51 per cent above pre-industrial levels.

Land-use changes, in particular deforestation, are projected to cause 3.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions following a small but uncertain decline over the past two decades. Just three countries - Indonesia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo - contribute more than half (58 per cent) of emissions from land-use change.

Reforestation and new forests counterbalance around half the emissions from cutting down trees, so stopping deforestation and increasing efforts to restore and increase forest cover is a big opportunity to reduce emissions, the researchers say.

They warn that, in order to keep global temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the long run, the world has to cut carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by around 2050.

If, instead, total CO2 output continues at 2022 levels, the remaining carbon 'budget' for the emissions that can be put into the atmosphere and still keep global warming to 1.5°C will be fully exhausted in nine years.

Earlier this week, a study published by Christian Aid found that current climate policies put the world on track for 2.7°C of global warming by the end of the century, and warned that this could lead to an average 20 per cent hit to African countries’ expected GDP by 2050, and 64 per cent by 2100.

Last month, the Lancet Countdown, an annual report tracking climate change and the impact it has on global human health, said that climate change is exacerbating food insecurity, health impacts from extreme heat, the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and life-threatening extreme weather events.

Although 139 countries have outlined new or updated national determined contributions as part of the Paris Agreement, a report from the World Resources Institute (WRI) found them to be “woefully inadequate to avert the climate crisis”. Last year, the International Energy Agency warned that the world’s pathway to reaching net-zero carbon by 2050 is narrowing and would not be reached without an “unprecedented transformation” of how energy is produced, transported and used globally.

During COP27, UN chief Antonio Guterres said the world is on a "highway to climate hell with a foot on the accelerator," and warned that nations must "cooperate or perish". 

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