Some sobering news was announced this week, preceding international climate negotiations in Germany. After three years of flat growth, global emissions are increasing again. This was discovered thanks to a series of reports from the Global Carbon Project, an organization, chaired by Stanford scientist Rob Jackson, that works to quantify emissions.
Despite this less-than-stellar news, Jackson stated in a press release, “This year’s result is discouraging, but I remain hopeful.” He continued, “In the U.S., cities, states, and companies have seized leadership on energy efficiency and low-carbon renewables that the federal government has abdicated.”
Jackson is correct. While U.S. national decisions on emissions and efforts to combat climate change are falling far short, with the country pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, states and cities are beginning to act independently. But, while many are hopeful that these grassroots efforts might keep the U.S. on track for now, this report details rising emissions on a global scale.
“Time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2º Celsius let alone 1.5º Celsius.”
This report is published in Nature Climate Change, Environmental Research Letters, and Earth System Science Data Discussions. The report shows that, in 2017, global emissions from all human activities will reach 41 trillion kg (41 billion metric tons), after a 2 percent (withing a range of 0.8 to 3 percent) rise in fossil fuel use.
“This is very disappointing,” said lead researcher Corinne Le Quéré, “time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 ºC let alone 1.5 ºC.”
Many hoped that these three years of little-to-no growth in emissions represented a peak — a positive sign that a decline would follow as a result of the efforts being made. But this is unfortunately not the case, as the Global Carbon Project has shown.
This disturbing message has reached policymakers and delegates who are attending the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 23) in Bonn this week. So, while it is upsetting news, it is ideal that all of these great minds are together and can start formulating a plan-of-action immediately. The Global Carbon Project report broke 2017’s cumulative global emissions down by country, which will be essential to policymakers looking to enact change.
In 2017, U.S. emissions are actually projected to decline 0.4 percent (-2.7 to +1.9 percent). However, this decrease is significantly smaller than the 1.2 percent per year decline that the country has averaged over the last decade. There are a variety of factors that could explain why emissions are increasing, including an unexpected jump in coal consumption. This may make sense in light of U.S. economic growth — in 2017 alone, the GDP was up about 2.2 percent.
It is clear that we are moving in the wrong direction as a planet. This wake-up call has shown that, while we’ve made some progress in curbing global emissions for three last years, the efforts we are making are simply not enough. Hopefully, policymakers, corporations, and individuals will all work to get on the same page and make a concerted effort to stop the increasing emissions.