Global CO2 emissions remain at record levels

According to the latest update from the Global Carbon Project, there is no sign of the urgently needed decrease in CO2 emissions to limit warming to 1.5°C.

The Global Carbon Project science team has reported that global CO2 emissions in 2022 remain at record levels. If this level of emissions continues, there will be a 50% chance that global warming of 1.5°C will be exceeded in nine years.

The new report, put together by a research team from the University of Exeter, the University of East Anglia (UEA), CICERO, and Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich, projected total global CO2 emissions of 40.6 billion tonnes (GtCO2) in 2022. Fossil CO2 emissions are the largest contributor to this and are expected to rise 1% compared to 2021, reaching 36.6 GtCO2 – slightly above the 2019 pre-COVID-19 levels.

An outlook on global CO2 emissions for 2022

Oil is the largest contributor to total emissions growth and has projected CO2 emissions above 2021 levels. This growth can be contributed to the delayed rebound of international aviation following COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

For major emitters, China and the EU’s emissions are projected to fall by 0.9% and 0.8% respectively, but the US and India have seen an increase of 1.5% and 6%. Overall, there has been a 1.7% rise in CO2 emissions in the rest of the world combined.

For a 50% likelihood to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the remaining carbon budget has reduced to 380 GtCO2 (exceeded after nine years if emissions remain at 2022 levels) and 1,230 GtCO2 to limit to 2°C (30 years at 2022 emissions levels).

Now, a decrease of approximately 1.4 GtCO2 each year is needed to reach zero CO2 emissions by 2050 – a reduction comparable to the fall in 2020 emissions caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns. This highlights the scale of the action required.

Half of the world’s CO2 emissions are absorbed and stored by land and oceans. These CO2 sinks are still increasing in response to the atmospheric CO2 rise, although climate change reduced this growth, by an estimated 4% (ocean sink) and 17% (land sink), over the 2012-2021 decade.

© iStock/Fahroni

2022’s carbon budget shows that the long-term rate of increasing fossil emissions has reduced. During the 2000s, the average rise peaked at +3% per year, whilst growth in the last decade has been about +0.5% per year.

The research team welcomed this slow-down, but said it was “far from the emissions decrease we need.”

Discussions at COP27

The findings come as world leaders meet at COP27 in Egypt to discuss the climate crisis.

“This year we see yet another rise in global fossil CO2 emissions, when we need a rapid decline,” said Professor Pierre Friedlingsteinof 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. The Global Carbon Budget numbers monitor the progress on climate action and right now we are not seeing the action required.”

Professor Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor at UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “Our findings reveal turbulence in emissions patterns this year resulting from the pandemic and global energy crises.

“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.”

Land-use changes: A significant source of CO2 emissions

Deforestation and other land-use changes are a major source of CO2 emissions (about a tenth of the amount from fossil emissions). Currently, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo contribute 58% of global land-use change emissions.

© iStock/Marcio Isensee e Sa

Half of the present deforestation emissions can be counterbalanced by carbon removal from reforestation or new forests. Stopping deforestation and boosting efforts to restore and expand forests is a potential opportunity for emission reduction and increasing removals in forests.

The Global Carbon Budget report

The team predicts that atmospheric CO2 concentrations will reach an average of 417.2 parts per million in 2022, more than 50% above pre-industrial levels.

The total emissions projection of 40.6 GtCO2 in 2022 is close to 40.9 GtCO2 in 2019, currently the highest annual total ever.

The Global Carbon Budget report provides an annual, peer-reviewed update, examining both carbon sources and sinks. Produced by an international team of more than 100 scientists, the report provides an annual, peer-reviewed update, building on established methodologies in a fully transparent manner.

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