Science reeling as data shows fossil fuel emissions return to all-time highs

The world may reach a 1.5-degree temperature rise on post-industrial levels in the next nine years if current carbon emissions continue, an update of the Global Carbon Budget shows.

Released to coincide with COP27, the bleak update by the Global Carbon Project calculates the carbon budget remaining for a 50:50 chance of limiting temperature rise to 1.5oC, 1.7oC and 2oC.

There are 30 years remaining to limit the rise to 2oC.

The ‘carbon budget’ refers to the maximum amount of carbon dioxide that can still be emitted to limit global warming in line with certain temperature goals.

Limiting global warming to a 2oC rise and pursuing efforts for 1.5oC is a central aim of the Paris Agreement, agreed to by 196 parties, including Australia.

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Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 globally, requires sustained emissions cuts of about 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) annually.

That means emissions cuts, every year, roughly equivalent to the emissions drop in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and lockdowns.

Unfortunately, the data shows global emissions are heading in the wrong direction. 

Fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions in 2022
Global fossil carbon dioxide emissions projections for 2022. Source: Global Carbon Project

CSIRO’s Dr Pep Canadell, director of the Global Carbon Project says, “we see no immediate peak, let alone decline, that could happen any [time] soon in the next two, three years”.

Total global CO2 emissions remain high at 40.6 GtCO2, and fossil fuel emissions continue to rise. 

“We are again in an all-time record of fossil COemissions”, Canadell says. Coal emissions may have broken the historical record and oil has grown significantly with the recovery of aviation.

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Canadell emphasises the Global Carbon Project is primarily data driven, requiring a massive effort from the global research community. The 2022 update is the 17th edition from the project.

For more of the data behind the carbon budget read: Five graphs you need to see before Friday’s Global Carbon Budget update

Professor Frank Jotzo director of the Centre for Climate and Energy Policy at the Australian National University says Australia is roughly halfway towards its updated 2030 target to cut emissions by 43% below 2005 levels, according to Federal Government emissions data.

“But of course, much more than half of the time from 2005 to 2030 has elapsed,” he says.

From here to 2030, Jotzo says Australia would need to reduce emissions by around 16 million tonnes (MtCO2) per year, “a far higher reduction than was achieved in the previous years from 2005”.

The effort required is even more significant given that, apart from land use change, Australia’s electricity sector is the only area where there are consistent reductions in emissions due to the increase in renewable energy sources and the shift away from fossil fuel power like coal and gas. 

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The electricity sector’s reduction in carbon dioxide emissions has aided Australia’s CO2 reductions, according to the Global Carbon Project / Credit: Global Carbon Project.

Other sectors like transport, stationary energy and fugitive emissions are all up on 2005 levels.

In recent years there were some short-term reductions in transport emissions, largely due to the pandemic. However, Jotzo says, “I think by-and-large we’ve seen a rebound in transport sector emissions, just recently over the last year or so”. The solution is electrification and more public transport, he says.

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