Scientists project carbon emissions will reach record levels in 2023 – threatening global climate goals

Pollution rising from industrial smoke stacks.
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Preliminary figures from a new study project that global emissions of planet-heating carbon dioxide will rise to record levels in 2023.

The CICERO climate research institute in Norway has estimated that the world is on track for a 1% rise in global emissions next year.

Carbon emissions rising to record levels

Scientists say the world will need to almost halve carbon pollution by 2030 in order to meet the world’s targets of limiting global warming to 1.5c.

Notably, scientists have warned that heating beyond that threshold risks triggering dangerous tipping points in the climate system. Tipping points are where major impacts to ecosystems become irreversible. Specifically, this refers to changes like the irrevocable switch of rainforests to grasslands, or the melting of the polar ice sheets. For example, a study in June suggested that summer Arctic sea-ice may reach the point of no return by 2030.

Moreover, exceeding the 1.5c threshold would risk greater climate impacts. Significantly, this includes climate-exacerbated extreme weather such as dangerous flooding, droughts, and wildfires.

Therefore, the world desperately needs to curtail emissions if we want to be in with a chance of keeping warming below 1.5c. Crucially, research director at CICERO Glen Peters said global CO2 emissions should in fact be falling by around 5% this year to keep on track.

Instead, according to his research, emissions have continued to rise. Peters currently projects that the year will see emissions up between 0.5 and 1.5%.

Read on...

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Slash carbon emissions to meet the Paris Agreement

The preliminary figures show just how dauntingly hard it will be to slash carbon emissions fast enough to meet the Paris Agreement goal. Peters said that:

Each year emissions keep rising makes it all the harder to reach pathways consistent with Paris

Earlier in 2023, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that for the first time, world demand for oil, gas and coal is forecast to begin declining this decade. It said that this is due to the “spectacular” growth of cleaner energy technologies and electric cars.

However, the energy watchdog has also warned of the negative impact of increased fossil fuel investments. As a result, it lamented that emissions remained “stubbornly high”. Notably, they had done so during the post-pandemic economic rebound and the energy crisis driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Research in September, for instance, found that G20 nations’ coal-based emissions had continued to rise despite their climate pledges. Together, these major economies accounted for 80% of global power sector emissions.

Time to phase out fossil fuels

Peters argued that phasing out fossil fuels is vital to reducing carbon emissions. He said that currently his 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.

As the Canary has reported, countries attending the upcoming COP28 climate summit are divided over the need to phase out fossil fuels. COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber – who also heads the United Arab Emirates oil company – has repeatedly expressed his view that fossil fuels will be needed to meet energy needs into the future.

Conversely, India and countries in Africa are calling on wealthy nations to halt new fossil fuel projects. As Climate Home News reported, a group of African countries will demand that industrialised nations cease greenlighting new oil, gas, and coal projects.

Meanwhile, India is calling for rich countries to commit to going beyond net zero emissions. Speaking to Reuters, an anonymous government official said that:

The rich countries should become net negative emitters before 2050 to enable the world to achieve the target of global net-zero by that year while allowing developing nations to use the available natural resources for growth

Rich countries must step up fast

Of course, the impacts of the intensifying climate crisis will hit poor countries and communities hardest. The world has already warmed 1.1c above pre-industrial temperatures. Already, countries in the Global South have experienced the devastating toll of climate-exacerbated extreme weather.

On the publication of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report in March, United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres called on rich nations to step up. As the world races towards another year of likely record carbon emissions, this could not be more urgent.


Feature image via Adina Voicu/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, image in the public domain

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

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