Despite years of commitments from countries to slash the emissions of greenhouse gases that are warming the planet, they are still on the rise.
Carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels is expected to rise by 1.1 percent in 2023 compared with 2022, scientists found in an extensive peer-reviewed analysis published this week.
Researchers from the Global Carbon Project, which produces the report annually, announced the results at the global climate talks in Dubai, where world leaders are reviewing progress toward the international goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures.
“Just supporting renewables alone is not going to solve the climate problem,” said Glen Peters, a senior researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Oslo and one of the 121 authors of the report. “You have to have policies that are ensuring that fossil fuels actually go down. We can’t just cross our fingers and hope.”
Emissions dropped sharply in 2020 as the global economy responded to the coronavirus pandemic. The war in Ukraine has also slightly dampened energy use. But emissions have rebounded and are growing again. In 2023, carbon dioxide emissions are expected to be 1.4 percent higher than in 2019, according to the study.
After multiple years with the confounding effect of the coronavirus, “this year is really clear,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate science at the University of East Anglia and an author of the report. “We are really in a trajectory that is way too risky for humanity, given the impacts of climate change.”
People have continued to burn more coal, oil and gas, especially in rapidly growing economies. In China, carbon dioxide from fossil fuels are projected to grow 4 percent in 2023 compared with 2022. In India, they are projected to grow 8.2 percent.
Emissions from powering international flights and shipping, activities that can’t be attributed to any single country, are also expected to increase by 11.9 percent this year.
Over the past decade, fossil fuel emissions have declined in 26 countries that had significant economic growth at the same time, including Brazil, Japan, much of the European Union, South Africa and the United States. But this group of countries only represents about 28 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, and these declines are not yet fast enough to align with the 2015 Paris Agreement temperature goals.
“All the countries need to decarbonize their economies faster,” Dr. Le Quéré said.
One of the biggest challenges is getting developing countries the financing they need to build renewable and other clean energy projects rather than fossil fuel expansion.
The burning of fossil fuels isn’t the only source of carbon dioxide emissions. Deforestation and other changes to the Earth’s landscape can also release large amounts of greenhouse gases. These landscape emissions may have decreased slightly in recent years, according to the report, but they are harder to measure and the findings are uncertain.
The longer greenhouse gases continue to rise, the steeper the challenge of stopping emissions in time to limit global warming.
“This ship is going full steam ahead. And it takes time to turn the ship around,” Dr. Peters said.
The planet is already about 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer now than it was from 1850 to 1990. Given current temperature and emissions trends, the world has about seven years before it uses up its “carbon budget,” or becomes more than 50 percent likely to surpass a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees, the new report found. Other recent studies have issued similar warnings.
Ahead of COP28, the United States and China, which together account for more than a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, reached an agreement to ramp up their solar, wind and other renewable energy with the goal of replacing fossil fuels. The agreement is not binding and does not specify how the countries will enforce and reach this goal.
“These joint agreements are positive and essential, but not sufficient,” Dr. Le Quéré said.
At the climate summit, she said she will be looking for countries to agree to phase down fossil fuels — not just coal, but oil and gas, too — on a specific and rapid timeline. On Saturday, 118 governments pledged to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency worldwide while reducing fossil fuel use, although China and India abstained. Some negotiators are pushing to include the pledge in the final decision document from COP28, but doing so would require consensus from all countries present.