Five graphs you need to see before Friday’s Global Carbon Budget update

The Global Carbon Budget is about to be refreshed, giving the world a critical insight into how efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are (or are not) progressing.

With the global concentration of carbon dioxide having exponentially increased in the post-industrial age, reducing human emission of this, and other carbon gases like methane, is critically important to keeping global warming to the targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Those targets aim to keep temperatures below two degrees of warming by the midpoint of the century, or ideally (though unlikely) lower than 1.5 degrees.

On Friday, the Global Carbon Project will release its latest dataset indicating the levels of carbon gain or decline across a range of variables in 2022, coinciding with the COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

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To give you a sense of the trends, here are four graphs from the 2021 release that you need to wrap your head around.

Graph1 gcb21

This is the big one. This chart shows the increase of carbon dioxide emissions over three decades from 1990-2021.  You can see that line has continued to increase despite occasional dips, due to geopolitical, financial or health crises. The biggest such dip occurred during COVID-19, when levels were on par with those at the start of the 2010s, before promptly darting up again with the post-COVID economic reopening.

Graph2 gcb21

The second chart shows China and the US are the biggest contributors of carbon output by far. China’s output continued to rise through the pandemic, while western economies like those in the US and European Union dipped. The EU’s carbon output had been slowly dropping since a 1979 peak, although rose again in 2021. Importantly, India’s carbon output in 2021 was on the cusp of overtaking the EU’s 27 biggest economies.

Graph3 gcb21

The third graph puts fossil fuels in context. Coal continues to account for the lion’s share of carbon output among fossil fuels, with 2021 projections indicating a strong rebound in its use. While coal use spiked and remains the most prominent fossil fuel in use, China’s particular reliance on it shadows the substantial use of fuels like gas and oil in the US and EU. China posted a record year of carbon emissions in 2021.

The final graphs contains glimmers of hope.

Graph4 gcb21

This fourth chart shows that in 2020, renewable energy sources continued to grow – despite the pandemic – and the major sources of carbon declined during. It does not, however, indicate how the global reopening influenced carbon output – we’ll find this out on Friday.

Clearly, while the world’s use of coal, gas and oil for electricity consumption appears to have reduced in recent years, the global use of renewable energy sources is still slow, despite the increase of wind and solar power since 2010.

Graph5 gcb21

At the same time, while fossil carbon emissions dipped in 2020, there was a downward trend reported in carbon output from changes in land use. While modifying land through actions like deforestation, organic soil burn and changes to soil drainage reduces the environment’s ability to capture and store carbon, positive actions like reforestation, peatland restoration and wetland protection among others can further improve natural carbon capture.

The Global Carbon Project’s 2022 budget update will be released tomorrow.

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