This latest budget shows that total future CO2 emissions cannot exceed 1200 billion tonnes for a likely (66%) chance of keeping average global warming under 2°C since pre-industrial times. Nations have agreed going beyond this limit risks “dangerous” climate change. At the current rate of CO2 emissions, this 1200-billion-tonne CO2 ‘quota’ will be used up in around 30 years – or one generation.
Global emissions must reduce by more than 5% each year over several decades for a reasonable chance of keeping climate change below 2°C, unless new technologies to keep carbon out of Earth’s atmosphere are developed and deployed in large quantities.
China, since 2006 the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, accounts for 28% of emissions, followed by the US (14%) then Europe (10%).
“What is remarkable this year is that China’s per capita emissions outstripped Europe’s for the first time. Moreover, China’s emissions now exceed the US and Europe’s emissions combined. This is an interesting trend and shows the important role China will play in addressing the climate challenge,” said Professor Sybil Seitzinger, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), based in Stockholm.
The world’s second largest emitter the United States saw emissions grow 2.9% and it is projected they will remain at this level at least until 2019, unless more stringent energy policies to curb emissions are put in place. This bucks a trend of declining emissions since 2008. While improvements have been made to reduce energy consumption and carbon intensity, economic and population growth coupled with a reversion to coal consumption are driving emissions upwards.
Emissions in the European Union, third place in the league table of biggest emitters, fell 1.8% on the back of a weak economy. Deep emissions cuts in some countries offset a return to coal led by Poland, Germany and Finland. While national emissions are falling, Europe exports about one third of its emissions, largely to the emerging economies. When accounting for these ‘consumption’ emissions, EU emissions have only stabilised.
India’s emissions are growing fastest of the big four, and account for 7% of total emissions. Emissions are on course to surpass Europe by 2019.
The Global Carbon Project released the annual global carbon budget in advance of the UN Climate Summit in New York, 23 September. The summit is billed as the largest gathering of world leaders to discuss climate since the 2009 UNFCCC climate negotiations in Copenhagen.
Lead author Professor Corinne Le Quéré, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK, said: “The human influence on climate change is clear. We need substantial and sustained reductions in CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels if we are to limit global climate change. We are nowhere near the commitments necessary to stay below 2°C of climate change, a level that will be already challenging to manage for most countries around the world, even for rich nations.
The carbon budget is accompanied by three analyses relating to the target agreed at the Copenhagen summit to keep global average surface temperature below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.
- The implications of the 2014 carbon budget for remaining below two degrees (Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets. Nature Geoscience, published 22 September)
- Option to share the remaining fossil fuel quota to meet the two degree target (Sharing a quota on cumulative carbon emissions. Nature Climate Change, published 22 September)
- How much societies will need to rely on untried technologies to remain below two degrees? (Betting on negative emissions. Nature Climate Change, published 21 September)
Lead author of the Nature Geoscience paper, Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, from the University of Exeter said: “The time for a quiet evolution in our attitudes towards climate change is now over. Delaying action is not an option - we need to act together, and act quickly, if we are to stand a chance of avoiding climate change not long into the future, but within many of our own lifetimes.
“We have already used two-thirds of the total amount of carbon we can burn, in order to keep warming below the crucial 2˚C level. If we carry on at the current rate we will reach our limit in as little as 30 years’ time - and that is without any continued growth in emission levels. The implication of no immediate action is worryingly clear – either we take a collective responsibility to make a difference, and soon, or it will be too late.”
The carbon budget and analyses at a glance:
Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and cement production continue to grow at a high pace.
- Global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuel and cement production grew 2.3 per cent to a record high of 36 billion tonnes CO2 in 2013. Emissions from deforestation remain low in comparison, at 3.3 billion tonnes CO2 in 2013, accounting for 8% of total emissions.
- Fossil fuel CO2 emissions are projected to increase 2.5% in 2014, bringing the total CO2 emissions from all sources above 40 billion tonnes CO2.
- Fossil fuel emissions in the last ten years grew at 2.5% per year on average, lower than the growth rate in the 2000s (3.3%) but higher than the growth rate in the 1990s (1%). The declining growth rate in recent years is associated with lower GDP growth compared with the 2000s, particularly in China.
- Fossil fuel emissions track the high end of emissions scenarios used by the IPCC to project climate change, due to smaller improvements in carbon intensity of GDP than expected in most scenarios, and continued GDP growth.
- Given current projection of the World GDP, emissions are expected to grow further in the absence of more stringent mitigation.
- The largest emitters were China, USA, EU28 and India, together accounting for 58% of the global emissions. Key results for the top four emitters are:
- Chinese emissions grew at 4.2%, the lowest level since the 2007-2008 because of weaker economic growth and improvements in the carbon intensity of the economy.
- USA emission increased 2.9% in 2013 due to a rebound in coal consumption, reversing the declining trend in emissions since 2008.
- Indian emissions grew at 5.1% caused by robust economic growth and an increase in the carbon intensity of the economy.
- EU28 emissions decreased 1.8% on the back of a weak economy and emission decreases in some countries offsetting a return to coal led by Poland, Germany, Finland.
The CO2 emissions quota to climate stabilisation is limited, for any degree of warming.
- Keeping warming likely (66% probability) below two degrees above pre-industrial requires the total amount of CO2 emitted since the pre-industrial period to remain below about 3200 billion tonnes CO2.
- Society has already used about two thirds of the CO2 emissions quota permitted to remain below two degrees. The remaining third of the quota is equivalent to about 30 years (one generation) at current emissions levels.
- Total fossil fuel reserves (i.e. oil, gas and coal) exceed the CO2 emissions quota to two degrees. Thus, without use of carbon capture and storage, a part of today’s fossil fuel reserves would need to stay in the ground to achieve this target.
The remaining CO2 emissions quota will be shared amongst nations, by design or by default.
- Sharing emissions reductions amongst nations has been one of the major obstacles in international negotiations.
- We developed an alternative approach that seeks to compare the consistency of local actions by countries, framed by the question “If others act consistently with our proposed share of the quota, would the global outcome be acceptable to us?”
- We examined a conceptual range of possible sharing principles for the quota, from continuing the present distribution of emissions to equal per capita distribution of emissions. Compared with the endpoints of the range, a blend of these options offers more consistency with expectations that sharing principles should both address equity in emissions reductions and also be achievable.
- At country level, the achievability of any sharing of the CO2 emissions quota can be greatly assisted by emissions trading mechanisms.
- To meet a warming limit of 2oC with 50% chance of success, average global rates of emissions reduction over the next several decades typically need to be over 5% per year, accounting for the need to turn around presently growing emissions and not including possible negative emissions later in the 21st century.
- Globally, committed future emissions from existing CO2-emitting infrastructure (eg. coal power plants) are about half of the available CO2 emissions quota for a 2-degree limit.
- Most scenarios on future emission pathway designed to stay below two degrees compensate emissions above the quota in the first half of the century by net negative emissions from new technologies in large quantities in the second half of this century. At present, bioenergy (biofuels) with “Carbon Capture and Storage” is a contender as a technology, but its environmental and socioeconomic feasibility has not yet been shown.
- The present growth rates of emissions and the size of the remaining CO2 emissions quota to avoid exceeding two degrees requires urgent and wide spread implementation of mitigation implying a rapid decoupling of GDP growth from CO2 emission growth, in order to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
- China. China is now a major player in the climate burden sharing. Per-capita emissions in China (7.2 tCO2/person/year) overtook per-capita emissions in Europe (6.8 tCO2/person/year) in 2013.
- India. Per-capita emissions in India are still well below the global average at 1.9 tCO2/person/year, though total emissions in India are projected to overtake total emissions in the EU by 2019 (for a population nearly three times as high).
- USA. Emissions in the US grew by 2.9% in 2013 after decreasing in the last 5 years, and are projected to remain about the same up to 2019 in the absence of more stringent climate policy, with improvements in the energy and carbon intensity of the economy being compensated by GDP and population growth.
- EU. Emissions in EU28 decreased by 1.8% in 2013 and are projected to continue to decline by about 1% per year up to 2019 with current climate policy. The long-term decrease in EU emissions hides emissions that are produced elsewhere for the use of goods and services within the EU. When accounting for these ‘consumption’ emissions, EU emissions have only stabilised.
- Australia. Australian emissions continued to decline in 2013 adding to a downward trend that began in 2009, largely due to the decline in electricity generation from coal power plants.
- UK. Emissions in the UK decreased by 2.6% in 2013 caused by a decline in the use of coal and gas. The longer term decrease in UK emissions hides emissions that are produced elsewhere but are consumed in the UK. When accounting for these ‘consumption’ emissions, the UK emissions have only stabilised.
Professor Corinne Le Quéré, Professor of Climate Change Science and Policy and Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia, UK. For interviews with Prof Le Quéré please contact Lisa Horton in the UEA press office on +44 (0) 1603 592764 or email firstname.lastname@example.org., or email C.Lequere@uea.ac.uk
Dr Pep Canadell, Executive Director Global Carbon Project and CSIRO research scientist, Canberra, Australia
Tel: +61 2 6246 5631
Owen Gaffney, Director of Communications, International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm.
Tel: +46 86739556
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