World's Carbon Dioxide Emissions Rise Again After Three Stable Years

Coal is still being used far more than it should be at this point. Mavrick/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 13 Nov 2017, 12:18

The Global Carbon Project (GCP) is a scientific group that aims to paint the most accurate picture possible of the planet’s carbon cycle. It’s most comprehensive analysis to date has just been published, and sadly, it’s not good news: our greenhouse gas emissions are rising again, after flatlining for three years.

The trio of studies were released in time for the COP23 gathering in Bonn, one which aims to implement and strengthen the Paris agreement as much as possible. This news, that global emissions haven't peaked yet after all, will cast a grim shadow over proceedings.

The studies – released in Nature Climate Change, Earth System Science Data Discussions, and Environmental Research Letters – do not reveal whether this uptick in global carbon dioxide is a one-off event that will not be seen again in 2018, or if it’s the start of a new trend.

The driving factor behind this rise appears to be China.

The world’s second superpower is certainly a major player in the formation of the Paris agreement, and it is inarguably investing in its renewable (and nuclear) energy sector at a breakneck pace, but coal is still cheap and easily accessible. Although it aims to ultimately give up coal, its current use is one that can be largely tracked by following its economic prowess.

A few years back, its economy stalled, which matched with a flatlining coal output. Now, with its economy rising again, its coal use is following along with it.

The latest estimate from the GCP is that carbon dioxide emissions grew 2 percent in 2017 compared to last year. The lead author of one of the papers, Professor Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia, told BBC News that this is “very disappointing”.

“Time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2°C (3.6°F).”

Altogether, when land use changes and emissions are taken into account, the world is set to emit 41 billion tonnes (45 billion US tons) of carbon dioxide. Although China played, and is evidently still playing a large part in this, the blame doesn’t rest with it alone.

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