Carbon dioxide emissions are rising worldwide, but falling in China

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — The world’s burning of coal, oil and natural gas this year is dumping 1 percent more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air than last year, bad news for fighting climate change, but with a curious twist, according to scientists monitoring the emissions.

China’s carbon pollution fell 0.9 percent this year compared to 2021, while emissions in the United States were 1.5 percent higher, according to a study by Global Carbon Project scientists released early Friday at the international talks about the climate in Egypt. Both are opposite long-term trends. American emissions have been steadily falling, while Chinese emissions have been rising — until this year.

In both cases, it’s a reaction to the pandemic and perhaps a little to the energy crisis created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, study lead author Pierre Friedlingstein of the University of Exeter told The Associated Press. He said those two factors make this year’s data chaotic and difficult to draw trends from. China’s 2022 lockdown to try to control resurgent COVID-19 is a major factor in that country’s decline, he said.

Much of the jump has been in transportation — cars and air travel — with people’s limits on travel during the pandemic running out, Friedlingstein said.

While global carbon pollution is still rising, it’s not growing as fast as it was 10 or 15 years ago. But overall scientists said this is bad news because it pushes the Earth closer to hitting and then passing the global warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

“It means we better prepare to go beyond the target and enter a world that humans have never experienced,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who was not part of the research team.

Friedlingstein’s team—along with other scientific reports—calculates that the Earth can only put 380 billion metric tons (419 US tons) of carbon dioxide into the air before the Earth reaches the 1.5 degree point. That’s about 9 to 10 years of emissions, meaning the globe will likely reach that point around 2031 or 2032.

“The time for 1.5 is running out,” Friedlingstein said.

“This is bad news,” said Brown University climate scientist Kim Cobb, who was not part of the research team. “It’s hard to see the face of rising emissions when we need to halve emissions by 2030 to keep global warming to an absolute minimum.”

In 2022, the world is on track to dump 36.6 billion metric tons (40.3 billion US tons) of carbon dioxide into the air from energy and cement use, the study estimated. This is the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza in carbon dioxide emitted every 75 minutes.

Apart from the United States which saw emissions rise, India had a 6% increase in 2022, while Europe had a 0.8% drop. The rest of the world saw an average rise in carbon pollution of 1.7%.

Coal pollution was up 1 percent from last year, oil was up 2 percent and natural gas was down 0.2 percent, the report said. About 40 percent of carbon dioxide comes from burning coal, 33 percent from oil and 22 percent from natural gas, Friedlingstein said.

The team calculates emissions levels up to early autumn using data provided by the top carbon emitters, including the US, China, India and Europe, and then makes projections for the rest of the year.

Although there are limitations to the predictions, Oppenheimer said: “This is Group A for CO2 emissions and the carbon cycle. They know what they are doing.”

Carbon emissions from fossil fuels fell 5.3 percent in 2020, but rebounded 5.6 percent last year, spurred by China, and have now completely erased the pandemic decline and are returning to a slowly upward trend, Friedlingstein said.

The team also looks at total emissions, including land use impacts. When land use is taken into account, emissions are stable, not rising slightly, he said.

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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