Instead of fossil fuel emissions dropping sharply and rapidly this year, which was needed to ease climate change, the latest Global Carbon Budget is calling 2023 the worst year yet
Global emissions from fossil use in 2023 are projected to hit a record high of 36.8 billion tonnes, rising 1.1%.
Emissions from all fossil sources (coal, oil, gas) are projected to have increased, with the highest growth from oil, projected to rise 1.5 per cent. The growth in oil emissions is largely due to resumption of ground transport and aviation following the shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coal emissions, which represent 41 per cent of global emissions, are projected to increase 1.1 per cent.
Emissions from permanent forest loss through deforestation remain too high to be offset by current CO₂ removals from reforestation or afforestation.
While emissions are declining in some countries, these efforts aren’t enough to reverse the overall growth in global fossil fuel emissions. Recent progress is not fast enough or widespread enough to put global emissions on a downward trajectory towards net zero.
Annual analysis indicates that if current global carbon dioxide emission levels persist, there is a one-in-two chance the Earth’s climate system would reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in about seven years, says Global Carbon Project Executive Director Dr Pep Canadell.
The Paris Agreement commits to pursuing efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
“The latest Global Carbon Budget shows progress in an increasing number of countries but faster, larger, and sustained efforts are needed to avoid significant negative impacts of climate change on human health, the economy, and the environment,” Dr Canadell says.
“If the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement are crossed, the global effort to reach net zero emissions will require a massive, and perhaps unachievable, scale-up of deliberate carbon dioxide removal to bring down global temperatures.”
What is the Global Carbon Budget?
The Global Carbon Budget provides detailed information about the natural and anthropogenic sources and sinks of carbon dioxide worldwide and is produced through peer-reviewed scientific papers.
The Global Carbon Budget was first produced in 2006 to establish a common and mutually agreed knowledge base on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is an international research project within the Future Earth research initiative on global sustainability and a research partner of the World Climate Research Programme.
The Global Carbon Budget has contributed to the first Global Stocktake to be released at COP28.
The analysis is also an important input to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which reports on climate change caused by human activities.
What’s new in the 2023 Global Carbon Budget?
- The extreme fire season in the northern hemisphere, particularly fires in Canada, counteracted an observed decline in emissions from fires in tropical regions and drove carbon dioxide emissions higher than the global average since satellite records began in 2003. Global emissions from fires for January-October 2023 were 10-28 per cent above the 2003-2022 average.
- The 2023-24 El Niño event will further increase carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. An El Niño event brings hotter, drier weather. The Global Carbon Project anticipates that El Niño will mean terrestrial natural carbon sinks are less effective in taking up of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and leading to higher atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and warming. Hotter and drier conditions in most of the tropics lead to a decline in their carbon sink strength. The ocean sink usually increases during El Niño years but does not completely offset the decline in the land sinks.
- Carbon dioxide removal, while small, is accounted for the first time in the budget. Carbon dioxide removal is where deliberate, human activity takes carbon out of the atmosphere. The budget says carbon dioxide removal from afforestation and reforestation accounted for 1.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to about 5% of fossil emissions. Carbon removal not based on vegetation (industrial removal and the use of certain minerals) was responsible for offsetting only several thousand tonnes in 2023.