New Record High for CO2 Emissions

Air Pollution

No discernible trend reversal is in sight. Global carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise in 2023, as indicated by the annual report from the Global Carbon Project. Anthropogenic CO2 emissions are projected to increase by 1.1 percent in 2022, reaching a new record of 36.8 billion tons. China and India are the primary drivers of this trend. Simultaneously, deforestation, wildfires, and the El Niño phenomenon contribute to the diminishing natural buffering capacity of vegetation. Combined, oceans and land can only offset approximately half of our CO2 emissions.

Annually, coinciding with the World Climate Conference, the Global Carbon Project (GCP) releases its comprehensive assessment of carbon dioxide emissions and atmospheric CO2 levels. As discussions on climate protection, compensation payments, and insufficient progress unfold at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, global measurement data and models provide factual insights. Prior to the conference, atmospheric greenhouse gas records set new precedents, while the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by countries under the Paris Agreement lean more towards a three-degree rather than a 1.5-degree trajectory.

1.1 Percent More Emissions Than in the Previous Year

Shares of various fossil fuels in CO2 emissions in 2023.
Shares of various fossil fuels in CO2 emissions in 2023. Image: Global Carbon Project 2023, CC-by 4.0.

The Global Carbon Project (GCP) has recently released its annual CO2 projections for the current year, revealing somewhat discouraging results. According to the report, anthropogenic CO2 emissions are set to reach a new record level in 2023, with a 1.1% increase to 36.8 billion metric tons compared to 2022. While global CO2 emissions have been rising more slowly in the last decade, there is no apparent reversal in this trend.

The majority of CO2 emissions, 41%, stem from coal combustion, with 32% from oil and 21% from natural gas. According to the Global Carbon Project, the emissions from all three fossil fuel sources have continued to rise since 2022. Additionally, there is a slight increase of 0.8% in CO2 emissions from the cement industry, which accounts for approximately four percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Notably, emissions from global air and sea transportation are projected to increase by 11.9% this year compared to 2022.

China and India Remain Emission Drivers

Trends in CO2 emissions from major emitters.
Trends in CO2 emissions from major emitters. Image: Global Carbon Project 2023, CC-by 4.0.

The emission trends exhibit significant variations among countries. According to the assessment, OECD countries have, on average, reduced their CO2 emissions by about 1.2 percent annually. In the EU, carbon dioxide emissions have even decreased by 7.4 percent compared to 2022, while in the United States, there has been a decrease of around three percent. The main factor contributing to this decline in the U.S. is the shift from coal to natural gas. In the EU, the positive impact on emission balances is attributed to the energy crisis resulting from the Ukraine conflict and the expansion of renewable energy sources.

However, China and India continue to experience a rise in CO2 emissions, making them the two most populous countries on Earth. In 2023, China is projected to emit approximately four percent more CO2 than in 2022, while India’s emissions are expected to increase by eight percent. The primary cause of this escalation is the ongoing and increasing use of coal, petroleum, and natural gas in these regions.

Climate Buffers, Fires and the El Niño

The article discusses various components of the Earth’s system and their contributions to the CO2 balance in 2023. Land-use changes, such as deforestation, are projected to release approximately 4.1 billion tons of CO2, with a significant portion attributed to Brazil, Indonesia, and the Congo, according to the Global Carbon Project. Despite reforestation efforts, only a fraction of these emissions can be offset. Additionally, extensive wildfires, particularly in Canada, have released a substantial 7 to 8 billion tons of CO2, surpassing the long-term average.

The El Niño climate phenomenon is also influencing the global CO2 balance in 2023. Oceans are expected to absorb around 10.8 billion tons of CO2, acting as a climate buffer. However, land surfaces, including soils and vegetation, are projected to sequester only about 10.4 billion tons of CO2, notably less than in previous years.

The article attributes this reduction in land carbon uptake to weakened carbon sinks during El Niño years, with regions like the Amazon and Southeast Asia experiencing droughts and fires. Consequently, natural land and ocean sinks will capture only about half of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, leading to an atmospheric CO2 concentration reaching an annual average of 419.3 ppm.

More Effort Needed

While the signs of climate change are becoming increasingly evident everywhere, the actions to reduce CO2 emissions remain painfully slow,” says study leader Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter. There are currently no signs of a rapid decline in global emissions, which is necessary to combat climate change. Instead, the report confirms recent projections that the CO2 budget for the 1.5-degree climate goal could be exhausted in approximately seven years.

It seems inevitable that we will surpass the 1.5-degree target, and recent years have dramatically shown us how severe the consequences of climate change already are,” says Pongratz. “Significantly higher efforts in emission reduction need to be decided by the heads of state and government at the climate conference in Dubai to at least adhere to the two-degree target.”

Source: (Earth System Science Data, 2023; doi: 10.5194/essd-15-5301-2023)