The Global Carbon Project published the Global Carbon Budget 2022 today, giving world leaders access to data on atmospheric carbon concentrations, emissions and trends for the 2022 United Nations Climate Summit – or COP27 – in Egypt. Illinois atmospheric scientist Atul Jain was among the many scientists worldwide who contributed data to the report. Jain talked about this year’s findings with News Bureau physical sciences editor Lois Yoksoulian.
What new information does the updated report reveal?
The Global Carbon Budget 2022 report shows that carbon dioxide emissions, the main contributor to global warming, are set to rise again in 2022 – reaching close to a record high of 40.6 billion tons of CO2. Fossil fuel emissions contributed 36.7 billion tons of CO2, with the largest emitters, China (32%), the U.S. (14%), the EU (8%), and India (8%), together accounting for 62% of the global fossil fuel emissions.
Emissions from deforestation remained low in comparison, at an estimated 3.9 billion tons of CO2, with Indonesia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo contributing 58% of global land-use emissions.
The combined land and ocean CO2 sinks continue to take up around half – 53% over the past decade – of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere. The rest of the CO2 remains in the atmosphere, causing concentrations to reach 417.2 parts per million – an increase of roughly 2.5 parts per million (or 9.5 billion tons of CO2) in atmospheric CO2 concentrations compared with 2021.
How do carbon emissions now compare with historical benchmarks?
Looking at historical trends, fossil fuel emissions in the last 10 years grew at 0.5% per year on average, lower than the growth rate in the 2000s (3.3%) and 1990s (1%). If you recall, 2020 fossil emissions declined 5.4% from 2019 because of COVID-19 measures. But 2021 emissions rebounded 5.1% from 2020 levels. Fossil emissions are projected to increase in 2022 by about 1%, or 36.6 billion tons of CO2 relative to 2021, primarily due to increased oil use from the delayed rebound of aviation since the COVID-19 pandemic. Projected 2022 emissions decrease in China (0.9%) and the EU (0.8%) but increase in the U.S. (1.5%), India (6%), and the rest of the world (1.7%).
What does the 2022 report suggest about future projections of CO2 emissions?
The report projects that total CO2 emissions in 2022 will track toward the high end of emissions that the world has experienced since preindustrial time. These projections are based on the impact of the pandemic and global energy crises, as well as increased wildfire activities fueled by drought and extreme heat in several countries in Europe and the Mediterranean. The findings suggest that accomplishing zero CO2 emissions by 2050 will require a total CO2 emissions decrease of about 1.4 billion tons per year. This reduction rate is comparable to the observed decline in 2020 emissions resulting from COVID-19 measures, highlighting the scale of the action needed, resulting in a cumulative emission reduction of 560 billion tons of CO2 for the years 2023 to 2050.
If the current emission level persists, there is a 50% chance that global warming of 1.5 degrees C will be exceeded in nine years. In order to stay under the 2 C limit, a target that the Paris Climate Agreement set to limit the worst effects of climate change, future cumulative emissions would need to be limited to no more than 1,230 billion tons of CO2. At the 2022 emissions level, this level of emissions would be reached in 30 years. But if emissions continue to rise, this limit will be reached sooner.
Are there ways to control those emissions, or is exceeding these limits inevitable at this point?
We have to understand that controlling CO2 is an energy problem. Establishing a path toward such a drastic CO2 emission reduction will require the development of primary energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in addition to efforts to reduce demand for electricity, gasoline and natural gas – all within the next decade.
It is important to note that CO2 emissions this year would have increased much higher than 1% if there were no significant deployments of renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles worldwide. Without these deployments, global CO2 emissions would have been more than 600 million tons higher this year, according to International Energy Agency.
Based on current economic and market trends, global coal consumption is forecasted to rise by 1% in 2022, and coal demand is likely to increase further next year due to rising natural gas prices. However, the good news is that policies to deploy low-carbon technologies, such as solar, wind and electric vehicles, have been successful to some degree, resulting in a much smaller increase in CO2 emissions. Also, actions taken by governments, such as the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, are driving fundamental structural changes in the energy outlook for the future and reversing the trends in global emissions.
What do you hope to see come out of this year’s U.N. Climate Summit?
Limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is necessary to prevent some of the worst impacts of climate change. Although the countries are committing to take more stringent actions to control CO2 emissions and pledge new financial support for developing countries, reaching a decarbonized economy by 2050 seems far-fetched today because actions taken by the countries are still far from commitments. With this report coming at the same time as the United Nations Climate Summit, I hope it will lead to some agreement that will push for low-carbon technologies in combination with policies directed at phasing out the use of fossil fuels.
Additionally, it would be ideal to see the U.N. develop policies to conserve global forests and other ecosystems, which can help reverse deforestation and land degradation to reduce atmospheric CO2 and limit global warming.