Carbon emissions levels remained largely unchanged for three years, but are now rising again. It’s still unclear, however, if this is the beginning of a new trend.
Things were looking good for a while, at least in terms of carbon emissions. When they didn’t go on an uptick in 2014, 2015, and 2016, there were feelings of optimism that maybe carbon emissions have tapered off and will eventually go down. Now, scientists are wondering whether the recent rise in carbon emissions is just a small blip, or if emissions are gearing to rise again in the coming years.
On November 13, the Global Carbon Project published a report saying that we can expect a two percent increase in the burning of fossil fuels in 2017. The Global Carbon Project is an effort by an international team of scientists who keep track on the amount of carbon that humanity produces.
So why is there an increase in carbon emissions, and what does this mean for the planet?
Coal use in China plays a large role in the rise of carbon emissions this year.
Scientists say that carbon emissions from industry and fossil fuels will hit a record high this year at 37 billion metric tons. Meanwhile, deforestation and other changes in land use will add four billion metric tons more of carbon emissions, bringing the total up to 41 billion metric tons.
"It's quite difficult to say whether this year is a little glitch in a trajectory that is otherwise more or less flat, or whether this is resuming the emissions upward," said Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the report. Le Quéré also says that it’s not the increase in emissions that’s surprising. Instead, it’s the strength of the resurgence. She also says that while the numbers are only projections, and the year isn’t over yet, projections in the past years have only been off by about a half percent.
The Global Carbon Project’s report predicts that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will rise by 2ppm. It may actually take a decade or so to know for sure whether or not this is a new trend in carbon emissions or just a temporary uptick.
So what caused this new resurgence in carbon dioxide levels? The report suggests that a significant part of the blame falls on China. China’s 2017 carbon emissions are projected to grow 3.5 percent due to the consumption of coal. India, meanwhile, is set to see an increase of two percent.
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel at the UN climate change conference in Bonn, Germany [Photo by Lukas Schulze/Getty Images]
The rise in coal consumption in China was also unexpected. However, the country didn’t have much of a choice other than to consume coal. There was a summer drought that impacted the country’s rivers, which in turn impacted hydropower.
News of this rise in carbon emissions comes just as countries around the world are convening in Germany for the UN climate conference. It's worthing noting as well that the Trump administration attended these talks to promote the use of coal. While scientists still aren’t sure about what the uptick in carbon emissions might mean, it might not bode well for the goal of keeping temperature increases to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Still, there are positive trends. Countries around the world have committed to significantly reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by certain timeframes, and many are on track.
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