World becomes more polluted
Three studies reveal a sudden jump, especially in China.
Heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions climb after several years of little growth, discouraging scientists who had hopes of reaching goals set in the 2015 Paris climate accord.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide have reached the highest levels on record, scientists projected Wednesday, in the latest evidence of the chasm between international goals for combating climate change and what countries are actually doing.
From 2014 to 2016, emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner. Those hopes have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6%. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7%.
The expected increase, which would bring fossil fuel and industrial emissions to a record high of 37.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, is being driven by nearly 5% emissions growth in China and more than 6% in India, researchers estimated, along with growth in many other nations throughout the world. Emissions by the United States grew 2.5%, while emissions by the European Union declined by just under 1%.
As nations are gathered for climate talks in Poland, the message of Wednesday’s report was unambiguous: When it comes to promises to begin cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change, the world remains well off target.
“We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this week at the opening of the 24th annual U.N. climate conference, where countries will wrestle with the ambitious goals they need to meet to sharply reduce carbon emissions in coming years.
Guterres was not commenting specifically on Wednesday’s findings, which were released in a trio of scientific papers by researchers with the Global Carbon Project. But his words came amid a litany of grim news in the fall in which scientists have warned that the effects of climate change are no longer distant and hypothetical, and that they will only intensify in the absence of aggressive international action.
The biggest emissions story in 2018 appears to be China, the world’s single largest emitting country, which grew its output of planet-warming gases by nearly half a billion tons, researchers estimate. (The United States is the globe’s second-largest emitter.)
The country’s sudden, significant increase in carbon emissions could be linked to a wider slowdown in the economy, environmental analysts said.
“Under pressure of the current economic downturn, some local governments might have loosened supervision on air pollution and carbon emissions,” said Yang Fuqiang, an energy advisor to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental organization.
China’s top planning agency said Wednesday that three areas — Liaoning in the northeast Rust Belt and the big coal-producing regions of Ningxia and Xinjiang in the northwest — had failed to meet their targets to curb energy consumption growth and improve efficiency last year.
But Yang said that these areas were not representative of the whole country and that China was generally on the right track.
“There is still a long way ahead in terms of pollution control and emissions reduction, but we expect to see more ambitions in central government’s plans and actions,” he said.
In the United States, the rise in emissions in 2018 has been driven in part by a very warm summer that led to high air conditioning use and a very cold winter in the Northeast, but also by a continued use of oil driven by low gas prices and bigger cars. U.S. emissions had been on a downturn, as coal plants are replaced by natural gas plants and renewable energy, but that momentum ground to a halt this year, at least temporarily.
In Europe, cars also have been a major driver of slower-than-expected emissions reductions.