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Carbon emissions from fossil fuels hit an all-time record high in 2023

In an alarming development, the Global Carbon Project science team has reported that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels have surged to record levels in 2023. 

The annual Global Carbon Budget, a comprehensive study involving over 120 scientists from around the world, has projected fossil carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to be 36.8 billion tons this year, marking a 1.1 percent increase from 2022.

Insufficient reductions 

This rise in carbon emissions comes despite a decline in some regions like Europe and the United States. However, these reductions are not sufficient to offset the overall global increase. 

The scientists warn that the pace of global action to cut fossil fuels is lagging far behind what is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change.

The report also highlights a slight decrease in emissions from land-use changes, such as deforestation. Still yet, these reductions are not enough to be counterbalanced by current levels of reforestation and afforestation. 

Fossil fuel emissions in 10-year “plateau”

Consequently, the total global CO2 emissions, including both fossil fuels and land-use changes, are projected to reach 40.9 billion tons in 2023. 

This is about the same as 2022 levels, and part of a 10-year “plateau” – far from the steep reduction in emissions that is urgently needed to meet global climate targets, noted the experts. 

The study was conducted by institutions including the University of Exeter, the University of East Anglia (UEA), CICERO Center for International Climate Research, and Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich.

Slow pace of action

Study lead author Professor Pierre Friedlingstein from Exeter’s Global Systems Institute expressed dismay at the slow pace of action against fossil fuel emissions. 

“The impacts of climate change are evident all around us, but action to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels remains painfully slow,” said Professor Friedlingstein.

“It now looks inevitable we will overshoot the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement, and leaders meeting at COP28 will have to agree rapid cuts in fossil fuel emissions even to keep the 2°C target alive.”

1.5°C global warming threshold

The researchers also investigated the time remaining before the world consistently exceeds the 1.5°C global warming threshold. With the current emission levels, there’s a 50% chance that this limit will be consistently breached in about seven years. 

This forecast, however, comes with significant uncertainties, particularly due to the unknown additional warming from non-CO2 agents.

Increasingly serious impacts

Professor Corinne Le Quéré from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences emphasized that the latest CO2 data clearly shows that current efforts are insufficient. 

“The latest CO2 data shows that current efforts are not profound or widespread enough to put global emissions on a downward trajectory towards Net Zero, but some trends in emissions are beginning to budge, showing climate policies can be effective,” said Professor Le Quéré.

“Global emissions at today’s level are rapidly increasing the CO2 concentration in our atmosphere, causing additional climate change and increasingly serious and growing impacts.” 

“All countries need to decarbonize their economies faster than they are at present to avoid the worse impacts of climate change.”

Other key findings on fossil fuel carbon emissions

  • Regional trends vary dramatically. Emissions in 2023 are projected to increase in India (8.2%) and China (4.0%), and decline in the EU (-7.4%), the USA (-3.0%) and the rest of the world (-0.4%).
  • Global emissions from coal (1.1%), oil (1.5%) and gas (0.5%) are all projected to increase.
  • Atmospheric CO2 levels are projected to average 419.3 parts per million in 2023, 51% above pre-industrial levels.
  • About half of all CO2 emitted continues to be absorbed by land and ocean “sinks”, with the rest remaining in the atmosphere where it causes climate change.
  • Global CO2 emissions from fires in 2023 have been larger than the average (based on satellite records since 2003) due to an extreme wildfire season in Canada, where emissions were six to eight times higher than average.
  • Current levels of technology-based Carbon Dioxide Removal (ie excluding nature-based means such as reforestation) amount to about 0.01 million tonnes CO₂, more than a million times smaller than current fossil CO2 emissions.

The Global Carbon Budget report, now in its 18th annual edition, is published in the journal Earth System Science Data.


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