CO2 balance for 2023 shows new record high

CO2 balance for 2023 shows new record high

CO2 emissions will again reach a new record level in 2023. © Edin/ iStock

In keeping with the World Climate Conference in Dubai, the Global Carbon Project (GCP) has published its annual balance of carbon dioxide emissions and atmospheric CO2 values. Accordingly, anthropogenic CO2 emissions have increased again by 1.1 percent compared to 2022 and have reached a record level of 36.8 billion tons. Emissions are increasing in China and India, while they have decreased slightly in the USA and the EU. Global emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas are also still rising, the report shows. At the same time, deforestation and El Nino conditions are contributing to land vegetation absorbing less CO2 this year than before. Overall, the global emissions trend is still pointing in the wrong direction – and is not sufficient for the necessary climate protection.

At the COP28 world climate conference in Dubai, delegates from 197 countries are currently negotiating climate protection and possible measures to at least partially achieve the Paris climate protection goals. The UN and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had already published reports on greenhouse gas emissions and the state of the atmosphere for 2022. Accordingly, the greenhouse gas levels in the earth’s atmosphere at the end of 2022 were higher than they had been in three million years. At the same time, the national voluntary commitments (NDC) submitted by the countries in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement are not even close to achieving the climate protection goals of a maximum of two degrees warming compared to pre-industrial values, or even better 1.5 degrees.

Emissions trends
Emissions trends from some of the major CO2 emitters. © Global Carbon Project

The emissions trend continues upwards

Now the Global Carbon Project (GCP) has also published its annual CO2 forecasts for the current year – with only partially encouraging results. Accordingly, anthropogenic CO2 emissions will again reach a new record level in 2023. CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will rise to 36.8 billion tons this year – 1.1 percent more than in 2022. The driving force behind this development is the increasing use of coal, crude oil and natural gas in many regions: The CO2 Emissions from the combustion of coal account for 41 percent of total emissions and will increase again by 1.1 percent in 2023, while oil and natural gas will increase by 1.5 and 0.5 percent compared to 2022, as the Global Carbon Project reports. The largest emitters are still China, the USA and India, but Germany is also in the top ten. The major emitters also include the global cement industry and air and shipping traffic. In both areas, CO2 emissions have increased further this year, with air traffic even increasing by 28 percent compared to 2022.

However, there are clear regional and national differences in emissions trends: For China, which is responsible for 31 percent of global CO2 emissions, the researchers predict an increase in CO2 emissions of around four percent in 2023. India, ranked third with eight percent of global emissions, will increase its CO2 emissions by another eight percent this year. In the EU and the USA, however, CO2 emissions have decreased by 7.4 and three percent this year. In the USA, the main reasons are the switch from coal to natural gas; in the EU, the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and the expansion of renewable energies had a positive effect on the emissions balance. There was also a slight decrease of 0.4 percent in the rest of the world. “Although the signs of climate change are becoming evident everywhere, action to reduce CO2 emissions remains painfully slow,” says study leader Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter. There are so far no signs of the rapid decline in global emissions that is necessary to combat climate change.

Climate buffers, fires and El Niño

There are also new figures for the CO2 balance of other elements in the earth system, including land use, the oceans, vegetation and emissions from forest fires. Accordingly, land use changes such as deforestation will release around 4.2 billion tons of CO2 in 2023, of which around 1.9 billion gigatons will be offset by reforestation and reforestation. “Emissions from deforestation decreased slightly, but they are still too high to be compensated for by renewable forests and reforestation,” says co-author Clemens Schwingshackl from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU). In addition, the extensive forest fires this year, especially in Canada, released a total of seven to eight billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere – significantly more than the long-term average. In total, fossil emissions and land use changes add up to global CO2 emissions of 40.2 billion tons by 2023.

And the climate phenomenon El Niño, which is driving up temperatures in the Pacific and causing major weather changes in the neighboring regions, also has an impact on the global CO2 balance, as the researchers found. Accordingly, the oceans will absorb around 10.8 billion CO2 this year and thus act as a buffer for atmospheric CO2 levels. The soil and vegetation on land will absorb 10.4 billion tonnes less CO2 this year than in previous years. “In El Niño years, the land depression weakens because regions such as the Amazon and Southeast Asia are affected by drought and fires,” says co-author Julia Pongratz from LMU. Overall, the natural sinks on land and sea absorb around half of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The rest ends up in the atmosphere, whose CO2 content will rise to an annual average of 419.3 ppm, according to the Global Carbon Project’s forecasts.

More effort needed

“It seems inevitable that we will exceed the 1.5 degree target – and the last few years have dramatically shown us how serious the consequences of climate change already are,” says Pongratz. “The heads of state and government at the climate conference in Dubai must decide to make significantly greater efforts to reduce emissions in order to at least meet the two-degree target.” According to the current report, a permanent exceedance of 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial conditions could occur This will occur in around seven years, assuming CO2 emissions continue to develop as before. Technologies for the subsequent removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (direct air capture and carbon storage) have so far only absorbed 0.01 billion tons of CO2. “For the ‘net zero’ emissions targets, massive efforts to reduce emissions are essential. In order to compensate for emissions that are difficult to avoid, a significant expansion of CO2 extraction processes will also be necessary,” says Schwingshackl.

Source: Global Carbon Project Earth; System Science Data, doi: 10.5194/essd-15-5301-2023

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