Carbon emissions emanating from fossil fuels will hit record levels this year, according to a comprehensive analysis presented at the UN COP27 Climate Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Its findings represent a strong contrast to the declared need to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 if global warming is to be restricted to 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The analysis by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) shows that there is no sign that the necessary reduction is happening, the researchers said, heaping further pressure on the countries whose representatives are meeting at the climate summit to deliver rapid action.
The world’s nations are projected to emit roughly 36.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide by burning coal, natural gas and oil for energy, up 1 % from 2021 and slightly more than the previous record in 2019.
Scientists have warned that the world as a whole will need to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by around mid-century to stabilise global temperatures and minimise the risks from heat waves, sea-level rise and ecosystem collapse.
A few states account for the majority of the world’s fossil fuel emissions, with China responsible for 32 %, the USA 14 %, the EU 8 % and India 8 %. In Europe, emissions are expected to drop by about 0.8 % this year, largely driven by a steep fall in natural gas consumption after Russia cut off supplies.
Some hope comes from assessment of emissions from the destruction of forests. These have been declining slowly over the last two decades, though largely because of more new trees being planted rather than fewer being felled.
When this decline is taken into account, global carbon emissions have been essentially flat since 2015. However, until emissions actually start falling, huge amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide are still being pumped into the atmosphere every year.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has set out to world leaders at COP27 this week what this means: “We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing. Our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,” he said.
The analysis by GCP uses multiple streams of data from the year to date to estimate emissions for 2022. It found that the emissions figure of 36.6 bn tonnes is the highest ever. More burning of oil products is the biggest contributor, mostly because of the continuing rebound of international aviation after the pandemic.
Continued emissions at this level would make 1.5C of global heating become more probable than not in the next decade, the researchers said. Reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as pledged by many countries, now requires an annual decrease comparable to the sharp fall in 2020 due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
Emissions from coal will return to the all-time high seen in 2014, but unlike in the past, this is not driven by China but by India and the European Union. The gas burn remained level, but at the same record level seen in 2021.
Emissions from China, the world’s biggest polluter, will decrease by 1% in 2022, the GCP found, because of the country’s stringent Covid restrictions and a collapse in the construction industry. The EU will also see a similar decrease because the 7% rise in coal emissions has been offset by a 10% fall in CO2 from gas consumption after Russia invaded Ukraine. US emissions will rise by 1.5%, with a surge in flights largely to blame. India will have the largest rise, 6%. This is due to higher coal and oil emissions. India now emits more than the EU overall – although emissions per capita remain much lower.