Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are set to reach an all-time high this year — illustrating the sheer scale of the challenge the world faces in the fight against climate change.
Scientists say carbon pollution will need to be cut almost in half this decade if the Paris Agreement is to meet its goal of capping global warming at 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels.
They added that CO2 levels should be falling by around five per cent this year but are instead expected to rise by up to 1.5 per cent, according to preliminary data.
Glen Peters, the scientist behind the research, told AFP ‘it would be very unlikely that emissions decline in 2023’.
He added that current projections suggest CO2 emissions – which are generated by everything from cars and planes to electricity, heating and food production – will increase by between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent.
Record rise: Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are set to reach an all-time high this year — illustrating the scale of the challenge the world faces in the fight against climate change
Warning: Glen Peters, the scientist behind the research, told AFP ‘it would be very unlikely that emissions decline in 2023’. This graphic shows how CO2 emissions have increased since 1960
‘Each year emissions keep rising makes it all the harder to reach pathways consistent with Paris,’ said Peters, who is the research director at the CICERO climate research institute in Norway.
His final analysis will be published in December ahead of a meeting of world leaders for crunch UN climate talks in the United Arab Emirates.
Top of the agenda is expected to be a debate about the future use of fossil fuels, which are the main contributor to CO2 pollution.
It is not all bad news, however.
The ‘spectacular’ growth of cleaner energy technologies and electric cars means the world’s demand for oil, gas and coal is forecast to peak this decade, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said earlier this year.
However, the energy watchdog still cautioned that ‘stubbornly high emissions’ during the post-pandemic economic rebound and the energy crisis driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine posed a problem for tackling global warming.
Peters said clean energy should be starting to replace the demand for fossil fuels but added that ‘this does not seem to be happening in any meaningful way yet, which is disappointing’.
The breakdown of CO2 emissions: In 2022, emissions from coal alone (15.5 billion tonnes) were larger than any other fossil fuel including oil and natural gas
Brighter findings: Despite the global outlook, the UK still managed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2.2 per cent in 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics (pictured)
There was a hope that greenhouse gas emissions would reach their peak first in 2015 and then during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, neither prediction came to fruition, with CO2 levels still on the rise and no turning point in sight.
Scientists have warned that if global temperatures eclipse 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels it risks triggering a dangerous tipping point in the climate system.
‘Yet, here we are again, with a new peak in 2022, and yet another peak expected again in 2023,’ Peters said.
‘My concern is that we are doing half the job, growing clean energy, and not doing the other half of the job, transitioning away from fossil fuels.’
In 2022, CO2 emissions increased by 0.9 per cent, or 321 million tonnes, to reach a new high at the time of 36.8 billion tonnes, the IEA said.
Cutbacks: The drop was mainly due to the phasing out of coal power, and its replacement by gas, a decline in energy-intensive industries, and the growth of renewable energy
The UK produced greenhouse gases equivalent to 417 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2022
This was largely due to many countries switching back to coal during the global energy crisis, although the global growth in emissions was lower than feared.
Coal – which is due to be phased out as a power source in the UK from 2024 – accounts for over a third of the world’s total carbon emissions.
Total emissions from coal grew by 1.6 per cent or 243 million tonnes last year to reach a new all-time high of around 15.5 billion tonnes.
Despite this global outlook, the UK actually managed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2.2 per cent in 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It explained that the drop was driven by two factors: homes using less fuel for heating due to higher energy prices and warmer weather, so less heat was required.
Demand for energy fell to a level not seen in 50 years, the ONS added.
Fossil fuels versus renewable energy sources
Solar – light and heat from the sun.
Wind – through wind turbines to turn electric generators
Hydro – captured from falling or fast-running water
Tidal – energy from the rise and fall of sea levels
Geothermal – energy generated and stored in the Earth
Biomass – organic material burnt to release stored energy from the sun
Although nuclear energy is considered clean energy its inclusion in the renewable energy list is a subject of major debate.
Nuclear energy itself is a renewable energy source. But the material used in nuclear power plants – uranium – is a non-renewable.
Renewables contrast with the more harmful fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas.
They are considered fossil fuels because they were formed from the fossilised, buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago.
Because of their origins, fossil fuels have a high carbon content, but when they are burned, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air.
Source: EDF Energy /Stanford University