The continuing high emissions stand in contrast to the reduction that would be needed to meet the Paris climate targets: in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius with a 50 percent probability, the maximum limit would be 380 billion metric tons of CO2 in emissions. If they stay at the same level as in 2022, this budget will be exhausted in just nine years, as the Global Carbon Project (GCP) report shows. Although the long-term rise in fossil emissions slowed in the period 2012 – 2021, and 24 countries with growing economies even managed to reduce their fossil CO2 emissions, this won’t be enough to reach the climate targets set in Paris and achieve zero CO2 emissions by 2050. To do so, anthropogenic CO2 emissions would have to be reduced by 1.4 billion metric tons of CO2 per year on average.
According to the GCP, the rising fossil CO2 emissions in 2022 are chiefly due to increased oil consumption and the rebounding level of air travel, together with increased use of coal for energy production. That being said, there are also clearly recognisable regional differences. In comparison to 2021, emissions will drop by ca. 0.9 percent in China and 0.8 percent in the European Union in 2022. In other regions, emissions will rise: by 1.5 percent in the United States, by 6 percent in India, and by 1.7 percent in the rest of the world. These numbers reflect the current geopolitical situation: the lower emissions in China are attributable to COVID-related lockdowns. In the EU, in contrast, the decline is primarily due to interruptions in the gas supply – emissions from gas will be ca. 10 percent lower than in the previous year. However, this will be partly balanced by a rise in emissions from coal (up 6.7 percent) and oil (up 0.9 percent).
Natural CO2 sinks are growing, but impacted by climate change
According to the report, the global amount of CO2 that remains in the atmosphere will continue to rise this year, by 2.5 ppm to 417.2 ppm (parts per million, a unit used for the composition of gases). However, not all emissions remain in the atmosphere; the ocean and landmasses absorb roughly half. In the years 2012 to 2021, the ocean absorbed 10.5 metric gigatons of CO2, while the land absorbed 12.4 gigatons on average. Although carbon sinks continue to grow with rising emissions, climate change is impacting natural sinks. The ocean can now absorb four percent less CO2, and landmasses 17 percent less, due to climatic effects like warming, drought, and changes in oceanic circulation.
Dr Judith Hauck is a climate expert at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). For the Global Carbon Project, she coordinates the estimates of how much CO2 is stored in the ocean. “What we’re seeing now is that the emissions are going back to the same trends as before the COVID pandemic. We at the AWI are investigating what the rising CO2 content in the atmosphere and the progressing climate change will mean for ocean sinks over the next few decades.”
The Global Carbon Project has released its report while heads of state from around the world are meeting at the COP27 in Egypt to discuss the climate crisis. “We’re seeing a few positive developments, but they’re a far cry from the dramatic steps that would need to be taken now in order to keep global warming well under 2 degrees. Our targets have to be made more precise and their implementation has to be followed through on much more resolutely if the goals of the Paris Accords are to become a reality,” says Prof Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, a co-author of the report.
The Global Carbon Project is an international project of the Future Earth research initiative for global sustainability. Its goal is to arrive at a complete picture of the global carbon cycle, one that includes both the bio-physical and human dimensions, as well as interactions between the two. Climate experts from around the world contribute to the report. From Germany, researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute (Bremerhaven), Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Munich), Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (Hamburg), Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (Jena), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research (Kiel) and Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research (Warnemünde) are involved.