Global carbon dioxide emissions expected to increase for the first time since 2014

CO2 Emissions Image
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In recent years global efforts have resulted in the stabilization of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel and industry. Between 2014 and 2016 there was marginal growth in emissions of just 0.4% per year. It appears this progress has come to an end, however, as a new study suggests that 2017 will see a 2% rise in global CO­­2 emissions.

Historically, economic growth has resulted in increased CO2 emissions; in order to meet the increased demand, factories have to burn more fossil fuels. The past few years, however, have been an anomaly as emissions have been stable despite steady growth of the global GDP.

Many factors have led to this new trend. In particular, countries such as China and the United States reduced their dependency on coal by investing heavily in renewable energy sources. Additionally, there was an increase in energy efficiency across multiple industries throughout the world.

Unfortunately, the continued success of global economies is expected to outpace the efforts being made to reduce CO2 emissions for 2017. The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, projects that CO2 emissions will rise 3.5% in China alone. This sizeable increase is the result of increased consumption of fossil fuels in Chinese factories.

Additionally, India is expected to see a 2% increase in carbon emissions. While 2% may seem great for a country that has an annual average increase of 6% over the past decade, it still contributes heavily to the expected global emissions.

It is unclear whether or not this frightening trend will continue in 2018. Many are worried that continued economic growth and a startling increase in the consumption of oil will only make matters worse.

There may be hope, however, as the study recognizes 22 countries that have had both economic growth and decreased CO2 emissions. Of these, all are European countries with the surprising exception of the United States. Even though many of these countries are projected to have modest decreases in carbon emissions, the researchers suggest that 2017 will see a record high 36.8 Gigatonnes of CO2 emitted globally.

Thanks to the nearly universal adoption of the Paris Climate Accord, many countries are expected to begin reducing CO2 emissions starting in 2020. However, if the emission spike in 2017 is an indication of the next few years 2020 might be too late. The authors warn that unless there is a quick and dramatic reduction in CO2 emissions, temperatures on Earth will surpass 1.5 °C by the end of the decade.

Author: Skylar Knight

Skylar is currently in the MSc Science Communication program at Imperial College London. He has years of experience working in science museums, academic publishing, writing, filmmaking, and science education.