Carbon emissions edge up as world closes in on 1.5 deg C limit

The annual Global Carbon Budget analysis predicts that emissions will reach 40.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – Global carbon emissions are forecast to edge higher in 2022, and if current levels do not fall sharply, there is a 50 per cent chance that global warming of 1.5 deg C will be exceeded in nine years, a major global study released on Friday said.

The annual Global Carbon Budget analysis, released during the COP27 United Nations climate talks in Egypt, predicts that emissions will reach 40.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) in 2022. This is driven in part by a 1 per cent rise in fossil fuel emissions from 2021. Fossil fuel emissions are set to reach 36.6 GtCO2 in 2022.

Emissions from land-use change, such as deforestation and land degradation, are projected to be a further 3.9 GtCO2 in 2022.

The findings are in line with a recent forecast by the International Energy Agency, which also warned of a rise of 1 per cent. It would have been higher but for a surge in green energy investments in 2022, driven in part by the global energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The more positive news is that 1 per cent growth of CO2 emissions this year is half of the long-term mean growth over the past 50 years,” said Dr Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project consortium, which conducted the peer-reviewed analysis.

“Yet the urgently needed peak and decline of emissions is nowhere to be seen in the coming three to five years,” he told The Straits Times.

The Global Carbon Budget report is produced by an international team of more than 100 scientists. It examines carbon sources and sinks, such as forests and oceans.

The United Nations’ climate science panel says the world must limit warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels to avoid increasingly destructive weather events and faster sea-level rise. The planet has already warmed by 1.2 deg C, and every year that CO2 emissions fail to drop sharply pushes the world closer to a more dangerous future.

The analysis found that emissions are projected to fall 0.9 per cent in China in 2022 and 0.8 per cent in the European Union, but increase in the United States (1.5 per cent) and India (6 per cent), with a 1.7 per cent rise for the rest of the world combined.

China is the world’s top greenhouse gas polluter, followed by the US and India.

Dr Canadell said that India’s strong CO2 emissions growth reflects a strong emerging economy coming from a very low base of emissions per capita. “So what we have seen this year is not only a continuation of recovery from the pandemic, but also long-term robust economic growth supported by an almost exclusive growth in coal-based energy.”

High land-use emissions remain a concern, he said. Indonesia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo contribute 58 per cent of global land-use change emissions, according to the analysis, mainly from deforestation and peatland degradation.

“It is hard to do well in this sector unless land clearing, and particularly deforestation in tropical regions, can be reduced significantly,” Dr Canadell said.

How great is the challenge to reach net-zero emissions? According to the analysis, reaching zero CO2 emissions by 2050 would mean emissions falling by 1.4 GtCO2 each year. That is comparable to the fall in 2020 emissions caused by Covid-19 lockdowns.

Dr Canadell noted that based on current emissions, the planet will cross the 1.5 deg C level early next decade. “No doubt about it – we are headed for temperatures much higher than 1.5 deg C,” he said.

He said industrial-scale removal of CO2 from the atmosphere is the only chance left to eventually bring temperatures back to safer levels towards the end of this century.

“Governments around the world have not understood yet that the climate crisis requires crisis-like actions,” he said, pointing to the already extreme weather occurring at a 1.2 deg C rise. “Clearly, we don’t want a world well above 1.5 deg C.”

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.