Researchers at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO) in Oslo, Norway spend each year tediously compiling the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases humanity expels into the planet's atmosphere. This year, their Global Carbon Budget Report projects that carbon dioxide emissions continued growing in 2019, though by a lower-than-usual amount of around 0.6 percent, reaching a new record high.
Compared to the huge carbon emission numbers in the early 2000s, when emissions jumped by some three percent each year, this is a small increase. But, critically, the 2019 emissions trend illustrates that global society's carbon emissions aren't falling, haven't even peaked, and certainly don't bode well for meeting the U.N.'s hugely ambitious target for curbing Earth's warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial Revolution temperatures, agreed upon at the historic Paris climate accords.
"Climate policies are far from sufficient to even reduce emissions, let along be consistent with Paris!" emphasized Glen Peters, the research director at CICERO.
"It’s not nearly enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement," agreed Bob Kopp, a climate scientist and director of Rutgers University's Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. Kopp had no role in the carbon emissions report.
Though global coal use declined in 2019, largely due to strong rains in power-hungry India resulting in a surge of clean hydropower from dams, a "robust growth" in the burning of natural gas and oil resulted in sustained, and increasing, carbon emissions, Peters said.
As of now, civilization isn't close to curbing Earth's warming this century at 1.5 or even 2 degrees Celsius above cooler 19th-century temperatures. A stark November U.N. analysis, called the Emissions Gap Report, concluded that if nations' current, insufficient pledges to cut emissions are kept, Earth will warm by a whopping 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial Revolution temperatures by the century's end.
To curb Earth's warming, carbon emissions must eventually fall to the holy grail of "net-zero," noted Kopp. This means that, in the decades ahead, any carbon society still expels into the air must be artificially removed from the atmosphere, and perhaps stored deep underground. But as 2019 illustrates, we're far from the net-zero dream.
The carbon savings account is already burgeoning. Atmospheric CO2 levels haven't been this high in at least 800,000 years — though more likely millions of years. What's more, carbon levels are now rising at rates that are unprecedented in both the geologic and historic record.
Renewables in the U.S. have indeed advanced in the U.S. over the last decade, with around 90 percent of all the nation's wind and solar energy coming into existence since 2008. But getting to net-zero emissions before the planet experiences irreversible changes clearly won't happen on the whims of the free-market. "You not going to bend the emissions curve downward with market forces," said a senior scientist.
Slashing carbon emissions has proven a stubborn problem. It's especially evident for the researchers who document the globe's rising emissions, year, after year, after year.
We are repeating ourselves. Emission reductions are not happening, emissions are rising, and yes, it is the same message each year, added a noted US researcher.
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