SYDNEY/NEW YORK – Although the growth of global carbon emissions is slowing, the persistent rise indicates governments — in particular, China and India — aren’t doing enough to stave off the worst consequences of climate change, according to a new report.
Emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels likely increased by 0.6 percent this year, following 2.1 percent in 2018, according to a report from the Australia-based Global Carbon Project. Declines in the U.S. and Europe were offset by increases in the fast-growing economies of China and India.
“Current climate and energy policies are not enough to reverse the trends in global emissions,” the report’s authors said in a press release. “Continued support for low-carbon technologies need to be combined with policies directed at phasing out the use of fossil fuels.”
The warning comes as envoys from nearly 200 countries gather this week for United Nations-organized climate talks aimed at implementing the 2015 Paris agreement to limit emissions from fossil fuels and as a global protest movement calling for tougher action on climate change gathers momentum. The climate outlook is “bleak” and the planet’s pathway back to a safe climate is narrowing, the U.N. warned last week.
The increasingly dire estimates about the pace of climate change are leading to calls for more extreme solutions than the actions that nations have already committed to.
The slowdown in global emissions growth was still significant, said Pep Canadell, the GCP’s executive director. Given the margin of error in the projection, an actual decline could not be ruled out, he added.
“It’s never good news when emissions go up, but it’s still not as bad as I had feared,” said Corinne Le Quere, professor of climate science at the University of East Anglia and a member of the GCP.
The GCP results were published in three journals: an atlas of international emissions in Environmental Research Letters, an analysis of emissions by fuel type in Nature Climate Change and a planetary overview in Earth System Science Data.
Coal use accounted for 42 percent of global emissions from fossil fuels, but its importance in power generation is on the wane. In the U.S., an abundant supply of cheap natural gas is helping accelerate the transition away from the dirtiest fuel.
At the same time, increased use of natural gas was the most-important driver of emissions growth in 2019, Canadell said, raising questions over the industry’s claim that the fuel serves as a bridge between dirtier coal and cleaner renewables. “It may be a bridge — but a bridge that is not going to lead us into the Paris Agreement targets,” he said.
Gas infrastructure is prone to leaks and “needs to be phased out not long after it displaces coal use,” the authors wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change. “In some instances, natural gas could lead to worse outcomes for the climate than coal.”
China’s emissions growth is projected at 2.6 percent this year, similar to the pace in 2017 and 2018, and the nation is catching up with European emissions on an individual basis at about 6.7 tons per person per year.
India’s increase is expected to ease to around 1.8 percent from 8 percent last year, due to an economic slowdown and a particularly wet monsoon season, which saw strong hydropower generation displace some coal-fired generation.
“The failure to mitigate global emissions, despite positive progress on so many aspects of climate policy, suggests that the full bag of policy options is not being effectively deployed,” the report said.
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