This year’s total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are projected to reach 36.8 billion tonnes by the end of 2023 – another all-time high. The finding, from the annual Global Carbon Budget report, adds to the long list of alarming climate records that have been shattered over the past few months.
Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, gas and oil, is the leading contributor of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere and a key driver of increasing temperatures.
Despite urgent calls to slash fossil fuel use to avoid a 1.5°C rise in global temperature compared with pre-industrial levels, the report shows that these emissions are still rising.
This year’s projected total of 36.8 billion tonnes is roughly 1.1 per cent higher than the total in 2022.
“Unfortunately, China and India have had a significant increase in emissions,” says Pierre Friedlingstein at the University of Exeter in the UK. Though, more promisingly, emissions have dropped in the European Union and the US.
Around 15 years ago, fossil fuel emissions were rising by about 2 per cent each year. “It looks like emissions are reaching a point where they don’t increase much from year to year any more,” says Friedlingstein. “Hopefully, it’s getting to a peak.”
When looking at both fossil fuels and changes in land use, such as deforestation, the report predicts that total CO2 emissions for 2023 will come to 40.9 billion tonnes. That is about the same level as in the past decade, because the increase in fossil fuel emissions has been compensated by falling emissions from land-use change.
If CO2 emissions continue at this level, however, we will have a 50 per cent chance of breaching the 1.5°C target in seven years.
“We need to go to [net] zero in the next 15 years,” says Friedlingstein. “It’s super ambitious and it’s most likely not going to happen.”
But every tenth of a degree counts, he says. “We still have to do as much as possible as rapidly as possible. Even if we miss 1.5 and hit 1.6, that’s still better than doing nothing and hitting 3°C.”