Global carbon pollution rises after 3 straight flat years

Exxon Mobils refinery in Louisiana

Exxon Mobil's refinery in Louisiana

An infographic showing the 2017 Global Carbon Budget.

Burning of fossil fuels worldwide is set to hit a record high in 2017, following three years of flat growth that raised hopes that a peak in global emissions had been reached, the Global Carbon Budget report published on Monday revealed.

In the U.S., emissions are projected to decline 0.4 per cent (minus 2.7 per cent to plus 1.9 per cent) in 2017, lower than the decline of 1.2 per cent per year averaged over the previous decade, with an unexpected rise in coal consumption (GDP up about 2.2 per cent in 2017).

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry, the bulk of man-made greenhouse gases, were on track to gain 2 percent in 2017 from 2016 levels to a record high of about 37 billion tonnes, it said.

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.

The US is expected to see slower decline in its carbon emissions, from an annual 1.2% drop over the past 10 years to a decrease of 0.4% this year, with a return to growth in coal use, as president Donald Trump promised to rescue the coal industry.

But, after a brief dip last year, China's emissions are projected to rise approximately 3.5 percent this year.

This is important because climate change is related to the total level of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is very disappointing. This is a window into the future. "It is far too early to proclaim that we have turned a corner and started the journey towards zero emissions".

In 2017, Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry are projected to grow by 2% (0.8% to 3%). When emissions flatlined for three years, it was the result of the country's reduced economic growth. "As GDP rises, we produce more goods, which, by design, produces more emissions", Jackson added.

As the world's biggest emitter China's projected 3.5% increase is a big contributor to the global trend. In the United States, fossil-fuel emissions are projected to fall by approximately 0.4 percent this year, compared to an average decline of 1.2 percent per year over the past decade.

This year is expected to be the first time in five years that coal consumption will increase (by 0.5 percent) in the country.

Atmospheric CO2 concentration reached 403 parts per million in 2016, and is expected to increase by 2.5 ppm in 2017.

Yang Fuqiang, senior adviser for the NRDC China Program, said the eventual carbon emissions of 2017 could be lower than forecast, as authorities have put on a large-scale production curb on industries such as steel and cement to combat air pollution during winter months. It is more likely that emissions will plateau or have a slight positive growth broadly in line with national emission pledges submitted to the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement.

The team flags that persistent uncertainties exist in our ability to estimate recent changes in emissions, particularly when there are unexpected changes as in the last few years.

"Having achieved the success of a global agreement to tackle climate change in Paris two years ago, these findings show that we need more than warm words in conference halls to tackle a warming world".

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