Global carbon emissions have significantly increased since 1900. Emissions from industrial processes and fossil fuel combustion which contributed about 78% of the total greenhouse gas emissions increase from 1970 to 2011. Deforestation, agriculture, and other land-use changes have been the second-largest contributors. For years, many countries have attempted o control the rise of these emissions, but haven’t fully succeeded. This year, we might have a huge chance.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions Hit a Record High in 2019
Human activities are responsible for nearly all the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years. In 2019, the UN Environment Programme said that industrial greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are still rising far too quickly for international efforts to succeed at limiting global warming to 1.5°C. This was after reports last year showed that emissions from industrial activities and the burning of fossil fuels pumped an estimated 36.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
"The single most important result is that we have yet another year of growth in CO2 emissions coming from all human activities. I think that it is very important to acknowledge at this moment that every single additional year of emissions growth makes it significantly harder to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement,” Pep Canadell, the Global Carbon Project's executive director, said.
Previous reports have also revealed that carbon dioxide emissions hit a record in 2019. Several countries account for the majority of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions each year. China, for instance, is responsible for 26% of these emissions, followed by the US (14%), the European Union (9%), and India (7%). “Every year that emissions go up, even if it’s just a small amount, makes the task of bringing them back down that much harder,” Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway, said.
Fortunately, there is also some good news. According to The New York Times, an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership, the US and the EU have managed to cut their carbon dioxide output last year, while India’s emissions grew far more slowly than expected. These helped industrial emissions to rise by only 0.6%, a considerably slower pace than the 1.5% in 2017, and the 2.1% in 2018. It was also reported that global emissions from coal, the worst-polluting of all fossil fuels, unexpectedly declined by about 0.9% last year.
However, scientists said that it’s not enough for emissions to grow slowly or even just stay flat in the years ahead. Global carbon dioxide emissions would need to steadily decline each year and reach roughly zero before the end of the century to avoid many of the most severe consequences of climate change, including deadlier heat waves, fiercer droughts, and food and water shortages.
“I do think global and national policies are making a difference, particularly by driving the rapid growth in renewables, and we’d be worse off without them. But at the same time, it’s clear those policies haven’t been enough to stop the growth in fossil fuels,” Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University, said.
An Expected Drop in Carbon Emissions
In the Emissions Gap Report 2013, scientists warned that if the greenhouse “gap” isn’t “closed or significantly narrowed” by 2020, the pathway to limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C will be closed. According to Our World, an online magazine created by the UN initially focused on climate change, peak oil, biodiversity, and food security, the world can emit enough carbon to surpass the 2°C limit within 30 years. Reports also revealed that we could be heading for a temperature rise of 4°C or even 6°C that could trigger damaging sea level rises, extreme weather events, and food insecurity.
“This will mean much higher rates of global emission reductions in the medium term; greater lock-in of carbon-intensive infrastructure; greater dependence on often unproven technologies in the medium term; greater costs of mitigation in the medium and long term; and greater risks of failing to meet the 2°C target,” the UN Environment Program stated.
Due to enforced lockdowns in many countries to control the rapid spread of coronavirus, transport use, electricity demand, and industrial activity are being cut. Now, recent analyses revealed that global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry could decline by a record 2.5 billion tons this year, a reduction of 5%. This is different from the earlier forecasts of climate experts that the emissions would rise in 2020, from an estimated 36.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide last year. Instead, emissions may fall to its lowest levels in about a decade, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war.
According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, the unprecedented restrictions on travel, work, and industry due to the pandemic are expected to cut billions of barrels of oil, trillions of cubic meters of gas and millions of tons of coal from the global energy system in 2020 alone. Earlier reports have already shown declining carbon emissions. Between early February and mid-March, carbon emissions in China were down an estimated 18% due to falls in coal consumption and industrial output.
The declining power demands and depressed manufacturing in the EU could cause emissions to fall by nearly 400 million metric tons this year. National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by National Geographic Partners, reported that this figure represents about 9% of the EU’s cumulative 2020 emissions target.
However, Dr. Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, said that the decline is happening due to the economic meltdown, not as a result of the right government decisions in terms of climate policies. “The reason we want to see emissions decline is that we want a more livable planet and happier, healthier people,” he said.
The current decline of global carbon emissions would not come close to bringing the 1.5C global temperature limit within reach. According to Carbon Brief, a UK-based website designed to improve the understanding of climate change, both in terms of the science and the policy response, emissions would need to fall by some 7.6% every year this decade to limit warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures.