Climate change

China helping push carbon emissions to all-time high

China cut emissions for two years, but levels tipped to increase in 2017, contributing to record global production of greenhouse gases, experts warn

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 1:05pm

World carbon emissions are set to rise two per cent this year to a new record, scientists said on Monday, dashing hopes that global emissions had already peaked.

Carbon emissions had been roughly flat from 2014 to 2016, but will increase this year mainly due to a rise in China after a two-year decline, the scientists said.

Their data, presented during negotiations among almost 200 nations in Germany about details of the 2015 Paris Agreement climate accord, are a setback to a global goal of curbing emissions to avert more downpours, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

“The plateau of last year was not peak emissions after all,” the Global Carbon Project, a group of 76 scientists in 15 countries, wrote of the findings.

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Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry, the bulk of man-made greenhouse gases, were on track to gain two per cent in 2017 from 2016 levels to a record high of about 37 billion tonnes, it said.

“Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again … This is very disappointing,” said lead researcher Corinne Le Quere, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in Britain.

Glen Peters, another leader of the study at the CICERO Centre for International Climate Research in Oslo, said China’s emissions were set to rise 3.5 per cent, driven by more coal demand amid stronger economic growth.

China, the top greenhouse gas emitter ahead of the United States, accounts for almost 30 per cent of world emissions.

US emissions were set to decline by 0.4 per cent in 2017, a smaller fall than in recent years, also reflecting more burning of coal.

Coal’s gains were linked to a rise in the price of natural gas that made coal more attractive in power plants, Peters told Reuters, rather than the effects of US President Donald Trump’s pro-coal policies.

Trump plans to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

European Union emissions were set to decline by 0.2 per cent, which is less of a fall than in previous years.

However, EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete told reporters on the sidelines of UN climate talks in Bonn that the 28-nation bloc has been steadily reducing its emissions and has one of the most ambitious climate plans.

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“If other countries were as ambitious as us, perhaps emissions would not have risen so much,” he added.

Worldwide “we are probably in the level-to-upwards direction for emissions in the next years rather than level or downwards,” Peters said, because of stronger global gross domestic product growth.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think-tank who was not involved in the study, said carbon emissions per unit of GDP were falling.

This year “might well prove a small blip on an otherwise flattening emissions curve”, he said.