The world has lost another year in the quest to finally start lowering its carbon emissions, which scientists say is fundamental to avoid the steadily worsening impacts of climate change.
Instead of beginning a long-awaited decline, global greenhouse gas emissions are forecasted to grow slightly during 2019, hitting another record high, according to a new analysis published on Tuesday. Total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry totaled 36.8 billion tonnes, according to an estimate from the Global Carbon Project, an academic consortium that produces the figures annually. That represents a 0.6 percent growth from 2018, which until now stood as the record.
“We’re blowing through our carbon budget the way an addict blows through cash,” Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth science at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project, revealed in an interview. “It’s troubling, because carbon dioxide pollution is higher than it’s ever been.”
Global emissions have increased for three consecutive years, at a time when they should be starting to fall sharply if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
The news of still-growing greenhouse gas emissions is the latest in a drumbeat of negative findings that come as world leaders gather in Madrid for an annual climate change event, where they face mounting pressure to alter the current trajectory.
Last week, a bleak report from the UN Environment Programme detailed how off-target the world remains in its collective goal of limiting the Earth’s warming. It said global emissions must drop by nearly 8 percent per year over the next decade to stay in line with the goal of limiting warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.
A slower pace of cuts of around 3 percent per year would keep the world on track for around 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100 — a level of warming that would have severe consequences, including the death of nearly all coral reefs and the possible destabilisation of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
The globe already has warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century, according to separate findings published on Tuesday by the World Meteorological Organization.
The WMO also discovered that 2019 “concludes a decade of exceptional global heat, retreating ice and record sea levels driven by greenhouse gases from human activities,” and added that this year is on pace to be the second- or third-warmest on record.
Tuesday’s report from the Global Carbon Project, published in several journals, involving Environmental Research Letters, makes clear that the transformation necessary to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions is nowhere in sight.
But the findings were not all negative.
U.S. emissions are projected to drop 1.7 percent in 2019 after growing the previous year, as coal is steadily displaced by natural gas and renewable energy. U.S. coal burning is expected to have dropped 11 percent in 2019 alone. Emissions in the European Union are projected to fall at a similar rate, as nations there also move away from coal.
“We’re not in the same position we were five or 10 years ago,” Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia and a member of the team that published Tuesday’s figures, stated in an interview. “We have demonstrated that making these investments [in renewable energy] do pay off, that emissions can go down.”
Le Quéré noted that not long ago, global emissions routinely rise by 2 to 3 percent each year, a rate that appears to have slowed. Yet, she added, “Emissions, at the end of the day, need to decrease to zero.”
While emissions dropped in the United States and Europe during 2019, they are expected to have risen in China (by 2.6 percent), India (1.8 percent), and the rest of the world (by 0.5 percent).
The Global Carbon Project found, meanwhile, that the burning of natural gas is booming, growing by an additional 2.6 percent this year after strong growth last year. Petroleum use in automobiles, airplanes and other vehicles continues to increase around the globe.
In China, the world’s largest consumer of coal, natural gas burning rose by nearly 10 percent in 2019 and petroleum use soared nearly 7 percent, according to the projection.
These trends are being triggered by multiple factors, researchers said, including growing supplies of liquefied natural gas; increasing vehicle ownership, especially in India and China; and ongoing global economic growth, which traditionally creates greater energy demand.
Deforestation and other forms of land use throughout 2019 also contributed to the human-caused emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases. The Global Carbon Project said wildfires in the Amazon and elsewhere helped drive land-use emissions to 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide — a growth over 2018 levels. The net result is that the world is expected to have produced 43 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from all sources in 2019.
While some of that gas will be absorbed into the oceans and some will be consumed by plants, much will linger in the atmosphere, boosting the greenhouse effect.
Researchers are able to estimate annual fossil fuel emissions before the year is even over by monitoring official government reports on fossil fuel production, imports, and consumption in China, the world’s largest emitter. A similar method is used for India. For the rest of the world, the 2019 estimate is based on the linkage between emissions and economic growth rates. For the United States, the group adopts the official forecast of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The estimate of 0.6 percent emissions increase also comes with some uncertainty. The actual number, researchers said, could be a slight emissions fall of 0.2 percent, or an emissions growth as high as 1.5 percent.
Jackson said a faster shift toward cleaner energy could create new jobs, improve national security, and have measurable public health benefits. But he also said it would leave a better legacy than the one of inaction on climate change that has defined during recent years.
“It’s another lost year, another lost decade,” he said of the trend of rising global emissions. “I don’t want to belittle the important things that have happened and are happening, but they are not enough. People will look back at us and wonder, ‘What were you doing?”
Source: The Washington Post