11 July 2024

Glasgow (AFP) – Global CO2 emissions mainly caused by burning fossil fuels are set to rebound in 2021 to levels seen before the Covid pandemic, according to an assessment published Thursday that served as a “reality check” to vague decarbonisation pledges at a UN climate summit.

Overall, CO2 pollution this year will be just shy of the record set in 2019, according to the annual report from the Global Carbon Project consortium, released as nearly 200 nations at the COP26 climate summit confront the threat of catastrophic warming.

Emissions from gas and highly polluting coal will rise this year by more than they dropped in 2020, when shutdowns to slow the spread of the pandemic caused economies to slow dramatically.

Capping the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — as per the Paris Agreement — would limit mortality and damage, but achieving that goal would require slashing carbon emissions nearly in half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050, the UN’s climate science authority warned.

“This report is a reality check,” co-author Corrine Le Quere, a professor of climate change science at Britain’s University of East Anglia, told AFP.

“It shows what’s happening in the real world while we are here in Glasgow talking about tackling climate change.”

– Waiting for the peak –

The new report is bad news for the 13-day COP26 meeting, where a diplomatic spat saw the United States accuse China and Russia of failing to step up their ambitions.

China will account for 31 percent of global emissions this year after its economy accelerated out of the economic lull ahead of others.

Carbon pollution from oil remains well below 2019 levels, but could surge as the transport and aviation sectors recover from pandemic disruption, said the study in the journal Earth System Science Data.

Taken together, the findings mean that future C02 emissions could eclipse the 40-billion tonne record set in 2019, which some have predicted — and many hoped — would be a peak.

“We cannot rule out more overall growth of emissions in 2022 as the transport sector continues to recover,” Le Quere said. “We are bound to have ups and downs over the next few years.”

The latest figures are in line with a recent International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast that emissions from energy would hit an all-time high in 2023, “with no clear peak in sight”.

“Perhaps we will start talking about peak emissions in 2023 or 2024,” said Glen Peters, research director at the Centre for International Climate Research in Oslo and a co-author of the report.

– China surge –

Looking at the national level, the report found a return to pre-Covid patterns among the world top four carbon polluters, which account for 60 percent of global CO2 emissions.

In China — which has pledged to peak its emissions by 2030, and reach net-zero by 2060 — economic growth spurred by government incentives will see emissions grow 5.5 percent this year compared with 2019, the last year not affected by Covid.

“The rebound in China was robust,” said Peters. “It looks like China is in a phase of strong growth again.”

India, the world’s other emerging giant, is on track for a similar percentage increase in carbon pollution, and will account for seven percent of the total this year.

Emissions in the US and EU will drop 3.7 and 4.2 percent this year respectively and their share of global emissions will stand at 14 and 7 percent.

The wild card that could determine how quickly the world can finally bend the emissions downward is coal, the report made clear.

“Mostly it’s about coal now,” said Le Quere. “This is where the big uncertainties are.”

Very little of the trillions of dollars channelled to post-pandemic recovery was earmarked for green development, a trend that is continuing, she said.

– ‘It is possible’ –

“Economic incentives now are about driving consumption, and this is really pushing industry, production and coal,” said Le Quere.

Worldwide, decarbonisation — mainly switching from fossil fuels to renewable — continues to be outpaced by the demand for energy.

But the report highlighted some positive signs.

Twenty-three countries accounting for a quarter of global emissions over the last decade — including the US, Japan, Germany, France and Britain — enjoyed strong economic growth alongside significant declines in emissions.

But the finding makes clear how daunting the Paris Agreement goals are.

Peter Norton, director of International Institute for Environment and Development, said the report showed that on current emissions levels the world would emit enough to breach the 1.5C goal within 11 years.

“That is in many ways worse than it sounds,” he said on Twitter.