Dec 5, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Report: Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels to hit new highs

 A bulldozer pushes coal onto a conveyor belt at the Jiangyou Power Station on January 28, 2022 in Jiangyou, Mianyang City, Sichuan Province of China.

The coal-fired Jiangyou Power Station in Jiangyou, Mianyang City, Sichuan province of China, in 2022. Photo: Liu Zhongjun/China News Service via Getty Images

As world leaders gather for the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are soaring to record levels.

The big picture: That's according to new Global Carbon Project, which estimates fossil carbon dioxide emissions of 36.8 billion tonnes in 2023 — 1.1% more than last year, driven in large part by China and India emitting more CO2 as they use large amounts of coal.

Why it matters: It "now looks inevitable we will overshoot" the Paris Agreement's ambitious target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels, said University of Exeter professor Pierre Friedlingstein, who led the research, in a statement accompanying the report involving over 90 educational institutions and published Tuesday.

  • "Leaders meeting at COP28 will have to agree rapid cuts in fossil fuel emissions even to keep the 2°C target alive."

By the numbers: The GCP projects emissions rises of 1.1% from coal, 1.5% from oil and 0.5% from gas for 2023.

  • Fossil-related emissions are expected to fall 7.4% in the European Union and 3% in the U.S. as the adoption of renewable energy surges, but they're set to rise 8.2% in India and 4% in China.

Meanwhile, international aviation is projected to be up 28% compared to 2022 as the industry continues to recover from pandemic lows.

Of note: The burning of fossil fuels that cause toxic air pollution kills some 11,800 people in the U.S., the world's second-largest emitter of CO2, and about 1.2 million globally every year, according to a new report, published in the medical journal The Lancet Tuesday.

State of play: The U.N. climate science panel found in a March report that in order to limit warming to 1.5°C, emissions need to be cut steeply by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

  • United Nations Secretary General António Guterres emphasized at COP28 on Friday the need to phase out fossil fuels. A U.N. report last month recommended a "near total phase-out" of coal output by 2040 and a 75% drop in oil and gas production and use by 2050 compared with 2020 levels.
  • Officials in China and India, the world's largest and third-largest emitters, oppose fossil fuel "phase out" language.
  • India's Power and Renewable Energy minister R.K. Singh has called on wealthier nations to invest in more energy storage, saying: "We cannot phase out fossil fuels unless we have nuclear or until storage becomes viable. We cannot have energy transition until storage is viable."

What we're watching: A report from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air found last month that China's greenhouse emissions are set to fall and "could be facing structural decline" from next year "due to record growth in the installation of new low-carbon energy sources."

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from India's Power and Renewable Energy minister R.K. Singh and further context.

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