Global carbon emissions to rise 2% in 2017: scientists

Jon Howard
November 14, 2017

Scientists have sounded the alarm after researchers warned unexpectedly that carbon dioxide emissions look set to hit record levels this year - at a time when they need to be reducing sharply.

UEA's Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research director Corinne Le Quéré said in a statement, "With global Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below two degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees Celsius".

Pep Canadell, a geoscientist at Australia's CSIRO and head of the Global Carbon Project that produces the carbon budget report each year, says that the findings are disappointing. They're pointing to China's activities as the main cause - Carbon dioxide emissions there are projected to grow by around 3.5 percent.

Although pauses have been observed prior to 2014-16, Dr Canadell said these were typically correlated with global economic downturns such as during the global financial crisis.

Global CO2 emissions from all human activities are set to reach 41 billion tonnes (41 Gt CO2) by the end of 2017. "We do not know if the increase in emissions in 2017 is a one-off, or represents changes leading to more sustained upward pressure on emissions in the years ahead".

Data from the Department of Environment and Energy shows Australia's emissions have been increasing since 2013.

Lead researcher Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, said: "Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three year stable period".

Worldwide "we are probably in the level-to-upwards direction for emissions in the next years rather than level or downwards", Peters said, because of stronger global gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

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Much of the rise in carbon emissions this year was attributed to China in the report, which was presented at COP23 in Bonn, Germany.

Although Professor Jotzo said there is a chance that Australia's 2017 emissions may show a slight decline due to the closing of the Hazelwood power station, this will likely be offset by a higher sales of petrol during the same period.

India's emissions are projected to grow by just 2 % (0.2% to 3.8%) - down from over 6% per year during the last decade (GDP up 6.7%).

United States emissions are projected to decline by 0.4% this year, more slowly than the decline of 1.2% per year averaged over the last decade because of a return to growth in coal use.

"With global Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2ºC, let alone 1.5ºC, she said". Those from all human activities (fossil fuels, industry, and land-use change) will reach around 41bn tonnes, similar to the record high in 2015.

In the U.S. and European Union, on the other hand, emissions came down by 0.4 per cent and 0.2 per cent respectively.

Furthermore, renewable energy generation across the world has increased at 14 per cent a year over the past five years, albeit it from a very low base, the report noted. It will help scientific community to develop methods and perform measurements that can verify changes in national emissions within the five-yearly cycle.

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