In Brief

Global carbon emissions set to rise by 2% this year

Scientists divided over whether this is a ‘giant leap backwards for mankind’ or just a blip

A major new study has found that global CO2 emissions are set to hit a record high this year - confounding scientists who previously predicted that carbon emissions had reached their peak.

In a new report, researchers from the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project (GCP) say CO2 emissions are projected to rise by 2% to reach 41 billion tonnes by the end of 2017. The increase is largely down to growth in coal-fired electricity generation, and oil and gas consumption in China, the scientists claim.

The GCP, a collaboration between international science organisations, aims to monitor global carbon emissions and their sources in order to help “slow the rate of increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”.

Whether the increase in CO2 emissions this year is “just a blip that is followed by a falling trend, or is the start of a worrying upward trend, remains to be seen”, says The Guardian.

Many scientists believe the new figures are cause for concern. “Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three-year stable period. This is very disappointing,” says Professor Corinne Le Quere, who led the new research. “The urgency for reducing emissions means they should really be already decreasing now.”

“There was a big push to sign the Paris agreement on climate change but there is a feeling that not very much has happened since, a bit of slackening,” she continues. “What happens after 2017 is very open and depends on how much effort countries are going to make. It is time to take really seriously the implementation of the Paris agreement.”

She added that the hurricanes and floods seen earlier this year were “a window into the future”.

A giant leap backwards?

The jump in carbon emissions that drive global warming is a “giant leap backwards for humankind”, according to Amy Luers, executive director of Future Earth, a global research initiative.

“Pushing the Earth closer to tipping points is deeply concerning. Emissions need to peak soon and approach zero by 2050.”

However, not everyone agrees. Climate economist Professor Nicholas Stern, from the London School of Economics, said: “I would not be alarmed. There will be some fluctuations - for example, around poor rains and hydro. We should also remember that the methods used to calculate emissions will have their own errors.”

He says there is strong climate action in China. “It has a very clear strategy, particularly on coal and energy efficiency and they are getting, and will get, results.” However, Stern adds, it is “vital” that all countries ramp up their emissions pledges and that richer countries support action across the world.

Study co-author Glen Peters, fro the Cicero Centre for International Climate Research in Oslo, says that China’s emissions were set to rise by 3.5%, driven by more demand for coal amid stronger economic growth.

China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, accounts for almost 30% of global emissions, says The Independent.

US emissions were set to decline by 0.4% this year, a smaller fall than in recent years, reflecting a rise in the burning of coal.

Coal’s gains are linked to an increase in the price of natural gas, which makes coal more attractive in power plants, Peters told Reuters, rather than to the effects of US President Donald Trump’s pro-coal policies.

A three-year pause

This is the first rise in global emissions for four years. In the paper published in Environmental Research Letters, the researchers said the three-year pause in emissions growth was down to an increased uptake of renewable-energy technologies and a reduction in China’s coal consumption.

Although pauses have been observed prior to 2014-16, GCP executive director Dr Pep Canadell said that they typically correlated with economic downturns such as the global financial crisis.

“The past three years were quite exceptional in so far as that in the whole record, it’s the first time that we saw emissions not growing at the same time as the global economy was growing quite strongly,” he said.

Worldwide, 21 countries, including the US, Denmark and France, have reduced their CO2 emissions over the last ten years while achieving economic growth.

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