Dec 4, 2019 - Energy & Environment

A half-empty glass on emissions

Data: Global Carbon Project; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Global Carbon Project; Chart: Axios Visuals

A major new report on global carbon dioxide emissions growth is largely bad news, but if you squint you can find some (rather small) bright spots.

Driving the news: The rate of increase decelerated this year as coal consumption dipped and economic growth slowed, but emissions still hit a record high, per new data from a research consortium called the Global Carbon Project.

Why it matters: The data released last night underscores how the emissions trajectory is nowhere close to the steep cuts scientists say are needed in the years and decades ahead to meet the goals of the Paris climate deal.

  • And as climate scientist Zeke Hausfather points out: "While some had hoped that flat global CO2 emissions between 2013 and 2016 signaled that peak emissions were near, the past three years make it clear that those hopes were premature."

But, but, but: Here's the bright spot. Several authors of the latest annual analysis, writing in The Conversation, note a "silver lining" — the emissions growth rate is projected to be roughly two-thirds lower in 2019 than the prior two years.

  • "Driving this slower growth is an extraordinary decline in coal emissions, particularly in the United States and Europe, and growth in renewable energy globally," they write. Emissions from coal grew modestly in China (an estimated 0.8%) and India (2%).
  • Hausfather, writing in Carbon Brief, notes that global average per-capita emissions have been essentially flat for eight years. On a similar note, The Atlantic's Robinson Meyer points out that global emissions growth is much slower than projected 2019 economic growth.

The big picture: The report projects that emissions will be up 0.6% this year, compared to a 2.1% rise in 2018, according to the tally of CO2 from fossil fuels and industrial processes.

  • Rising oil and natural gas consumption fueled the overall emissions growth, despite the nearly 1% decline in global emissions from coal, the most CO2-emitting fuel.

The bottom line: "[E]missions have grown by 62% since international climate negotiations began in 1990 to address the problem," The Conversation piece notes.

  • “Carbon dioxide emissions must decline sharply if the world is to meet the ‘well below 2°C’ mark set out in the Paris Agreement, and every year with growing emissions makes that target even more difficult to reach,” said Robbie Andrew of the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in a statement alongside the data.

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