climate change

Global carbon emissions rise again in 2017, bucking the three-year low growth trend



A rise in coal usage in China is being blamed for the projected rise of global carbon emissions this year.


By Anders Lorenzen

After three years of little or no growth at all, carbon emissions are again on the rise – bucking the three-year positive trend, and undoubtedly worrying climate advocates.

This is according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Global Carbon Project.

They have projected a growth increase in global carbon emissions of around 2% for 2017 from the burning of fossil fuels which, including all human activities, will reach 41 billion tonnes in 2017. The world’s rapid adoption of renewable energy, according to researchers, has increased by 14% in the last five years. But this has not been enough to avert the significant rise in CO2 emissions.

The research was unveiled at a press conference in Bonn, Germany at the UN climate negotiations COP23 just as the second week of talks got underway, and it will be unwelcome news for policymakers and delegates.

The projections presented a real blow. There had been hoped that emissions might soon reach their peak after the previous three stable years of little or no growth. But instead of reaching that turning point, the challenge of curbing climate change at the 2 degrees mark which was globally agreed to at the 2015 Paris Agreement, the task now somehow seems much greater.

The findings

The researchers have pointed the finger at China, where the increased use of coal is the main reason for the increase. China is the world’s largest emitter of CO2, accounting for 28% of global emissions, and is projected to see emissions increase by 3.5 percent in 2017. The figures are driven by a rise in coal consumption, fuelling an increase of 6.3 % in GDP.

However, the findings were somewhat better with regards to the world’s second-largest emitter, the US, accounting for 15% of global emissions. It is expected that their emissions will actually have decreased slightly at 0.4%. Though with a slight increase in coal consumption, this does represent a smaller CO2 decrease than the previous decade.  It is the first time in five years that coal use is projected to rise in the US, and this could be due to the effort by the Trump Administration to kickstart the coal industry.

For the world’s third-largest emitter, Europe, the findings pointed to a decline in 2017 by 0.2%. This is a smaller decrease than the previous decade, which perhaps indicates that the EU as a long-standing climate leader is starting to lose that position.

India, the world’s fourth biggest emitter, actually presents a positive story, as their emissions are only set to increase by 2%, which is a lot less than the 6% growth during the previous decade. The stalling of oil production and the sharp reduction in cement production have both significantly contributed towards this figure.

Commenting on the findings, Lead Researcher Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Director of the Tyndall Centre at UEA said: “Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three-year stable period. This is very disappointing. With global CO2 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”.

And Dr Glen Peters of the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, who led one of the studies, added: “The return to growth in global emissions in 2017 is largely due to growth in Chinese emissions, projected to grow by 3.5% in 2017 after two years with declining emissions. The use of coal, the main fuel source in China, may rise by 3% due to stronger growth in industrial production and lower hydro-power generation due to less rainfall. The growth in 2017 emissions is unwelcome news, but it is too early to say whether it is a one-off event on a way to a global peak in emissions or the start of a new period with upward pressure on global emissions growth.”

The researchers pointed out that because the large share of the world’s emissions is coming from China, the world’s most populous country, these up and downward trends will have a big impact on the decrease and increase of total global emissions.

Categories: climate change, energy

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