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Global CO2 increase. Conjunctural or structural?

16 January 2018

Figures for 2017 point to an increase in CO2 emissions at the planetary level.

On the occasion of the UN climate change conference held in Bonn in November 2017 (COP23), the report entitled Global Carbon Budget 2017, annual elaboration of the GCP (Global Carbon Project), an organization that welcomes the collaboration of hundreds of scientists and numerous global institutions in the investigation of the complex carbon cycle.

We should not confuse the terminology "World Carbon Budget" as the title of the publication published since 2005 by this group, with the meaning of the slang understood by this phrase (carbon budget) as the amount of emissions that would still be left to fulfill a climate objective, such as avoiding the 20C increase in global warming.

The studies on which the forecasts of this report are based are published by the scientific journals Nature Climate Change, Environmental Research Letters and Earth System Science Data Discussions.

  1. Nature Climate Change (13/11/2017): Towards real-time verification of CO2 emissions
  2. Environmental Research Letters (11/15/2017): Warning signs for stabilizing global CO2 emissions.
  3. Earth system Science Data Discussions (11/13/2017): Global Carbon Budget 2017.

Newspapers and magazines that echo this report are the New York Times, La Vanguardia, El País, Público, Carbon Brief, among others.

All of them headline the main conclusion of the report: that after three years (2014-2016) of stagnation of CO2 emissions globally, the year 2017 presents a rebound or increase in these emissions.

  • nytimes.com: CO2 Emissions Were Flat for Three Years. Now They're Rising Again.
  • lavanguardia.com: Global CO2 emissions grow again after three years of stagnation, catapulted by China
  • elpaís.com: Climate change: Global CO2 emissions grow again in 2017
  • publico.es: Global CO2 emissions will rise again in 2017, after three stagnant years
  • carbon.brief.org: Analysis: Global CO2 emissions set to rise 2% in 2017 after three-year 'plateau'
  • The efficiency of News Agencies can be detected in the simultaneous date of issue (13/11/2017) of this news by all newspapers.

The Global Carbon Project portal records emissions by country, different types of issuers, infographics, atmospheric CO2 accumulation, sinks and other carbon cycle data. It contains the Global Carbon Budget report for 2017. We link a video that summarizes the Global Carbon Budget 2017 data, through Future Earth and GCP.

The graph shows the volume of CO2 emissions expressed in gigotons. While 45% of the total volume goes into the atmosphere, the remaining 55% is reabsorbed by forests and oceans (sinkholes).

 "It is projected that global emissions in 2017 will increase by 2% (+ 0.8% to + 3.0%) after three years of almost no growth, reaching 10.0 ± 0.5 GtC (36.8 GtCO2), a new record" (GCB 2017) .

Where is the relevance of this news about the rebound in global CO2 emissions worldwide? Obviously the first and most important of the objectives set by the different summits on climate change are being challenged (Kyoto, Paris, Bonn): binding objective of reducing greenhouse gases: reducing emissions by 40 % below the 1990 level. In other words: keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade at the end of the century. The repercussions or side effects of the high levels of greenhouse gases - to which we already dedicate one of the articles in this blog - are widely known. However, there is still a current of opinion that tends to deny them, arguing that there is not enough empirical evidence to prove it. Organizations and associations of a scientific nature that relate climate change and human intervention on greenhouse gases are increasingly numerous.

There are thousands of articles and graphs dedicated to examining the CO2 increases throughout the evolutionary history. We summarize them through the following one, which simplifies and expresses at the same time the exponential increase of these gases that has occurred in the last century.

The possible increases in the global temperature of the planet in the 21st century, according to whether or not there is a follow-up to the Paris agreements, are plotted by Carbon Brief in one of its articles, collecting data from different associations:

We must bear in mind that this is a report made before the end of 2017 and therefore its results are relatively provisional. "The overall estimate of a 2% increase in emissions could be as low as 0.8% or as high as 3%, the researchers say. The GCP will publish more complete 2017 numbers at the beginning of 2018 when all data is available "(Carbonbrief.com). The question that carries the title of this article ¿conjunctural or structural? It summarizes the basic concern that the report has raised: is it specific data and will it continue to maintain acceptable levels in the coming years or indicate a deeper trend towards disproportionate increases? There seems to be no conclusive answer to this dilemma.

The core of the matter seems to reside in the 4-5 blocks that concentrate most (almost 60%) of the total volume of CO2 emissions. We refer to China, India, EU, EU and rest of the world (some articles place Russia in fifth place in this ranking).

We extracted a small comparative table with the emissions made from fossil fuels and industry (EFF) of the Global Carbon Budget 2017.

The same, but read by the New York Times:

Summary of some report data:

In 2017, CO2 emissions dependent on fossil fuels and industry will grow by 2%, after three years of relative stagnation.

The world GDP (GDP according to its acronym in English) will grow in the order of 3.6%. Obviously it is one of the factors that pull up emissions.

The global of human emissions reaches 41 Gt, with approximately 10% corresponding to changes in land use and deforestation.

The 3.5% growth of Chinese emissions are mainly due to the use of coal, due to a decrease in rainfall and therefore in hydroelectric power. Both the EU and the EU present a slight decrease in emissions, despite, in both cases, a rise in GDP. In the case of the EU, it seems that it is due to a greater use of natural gas, which, although polluting, does so in a lesser degree of CO2. In 22 countries, which account for 20% of emissions, these declined despite a rise in GDP.

"The growth rate projections for 2017 are + 3.5% (+0.7 to + 5.4%) for China, -0.4% (-2.7 to +1.9) for the United States, -0.2% (-2.0 to + 1.6%) for EU28, and + 2.0% (+0.2 to + 3.8%) for India "(GCB 2017).

The concentration of CO2 that reached levels of 403 ppm (parts per million) in 2016 is expected to increase by 2.5 ppm in 2017.

We conclude with some quotes extracted from REN21.GSR 2017, referring to the same topic that concerns us:

"Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry remained stable for the third consecutive year, despite the 3% growth of the global economy and the increase in energy demand. This can be attributed, mainly, to the decline of coal, but also to the growth of renewable energy capacity and the improvements achieved in energy efficiency (...) PV solar power represents almost 47% of the added capacity (in 2016). "

"Subsidies to fossil fuels continue to impede progress. Subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear energy throughout the world continue to dramatically outpace those granted to renewable technologies. By the end of 2016, more than 50 countries had committed to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels and, although it is true that some reforms were made, it was not enough. In 2014, the ratio between fossil fuel subsidies and subsidies for renewable energies was 4: 1. For every dollar spent on renewables, governments spent $ 4 that helped perpetuate dependence on fossil fuels. "

"Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21, explains:" The world is in a race against time. The only and most important thing we can do to reduce CO2 emissions quickly and as cost-effectively as possible is to gradually withdraw the use of coal and accelerate investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. When China announced in January that it was going to cancel more than 100 coal plants that were under development, this nation set the example for the rest of the world's governments. Change can happen quickly when governments decide to act and establish long-term policies, as well as financial signals and incentives. "

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