Fossil fuel emissions continue to spiral upwards

Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use are expected to increase by 1.1 per cent across 2023, despite record amounts of renewable energy coming online.

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Published in Earth System Science Data, the analysis comes from the Global Carbon Project (GCP) and its annual report on the planet’s carbon cycle. According to the research, the average increase over the past 10 years has been 0.5 per cent, so 2023 marks an acceleration in fossil CO2 emissions. The amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere from fossil fuels is now six per cent higher than in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was negotiated.  

“We continually see record growth in clean energy, but we have failed to put sufficient controls on the growth of fossil fuels and therefore CO2 emissions just keep rising,” said Glen Peters, senior researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research.

Coal emissions are predicted to increase 1.1 per cent, driven largely by its continued growth in China and India. The expected rise of 1.5 per cent for oil emissions is attributed primarily to an increase in international aviation and ground transportation in China. According to recent analysis from Carbon Brief, the massive boom in Chinese renewables could help the country peak its CO2 emissions in 2024.

“China has seen continued strong growth in wind and solar power, without which emissions growth would have been much higher,” said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, senior researcher at CICERO.

“But solar and wind couldn’t meet high electricity demand growth and low hydropower production due to drought, so coal power generation also grew. In addition, increased travel and domestic transport led to strong growth in oil consumption, after a drop during the COVID lockdowns in 2022.”

In marginally better news, CO2 emissions from natural gas have increased by just 0.5 per cent, compared with an average of 2 per cent per year for the past decade. The relative decline is a result of the EU’s shift away from Russian gas in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

The GCP carbon cycle analysis accounted for emissions from land use change as well as fossil fuel use. Overall, the carbon cycle analysis found that atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased on average 2.4 parts per million (ppm) per year in the last ten years and are projected to increase 2.4ppm in 2023 to reach 419.3ppm, 51 per cent above pre-industrial levels.

“Net zero has become the common catchphrase for doing something on climate, but at its core is the necessity to reduce CO2 emissions to near zero,” said Peters.

“If countries and companies are not radically reducing CO2 emissions, then they are in no way consistent with the scientific concept of net zero emissions.”