After three years of barely budging, fossil fuel emissions are once again climbing, according to new Stanford-led analyses.
Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human activities were nearly flat between 2014 and 2106, despite growth in the global economy, reports the Global Carbon Project, an international team chaired by Stanford scientist Rob Jackson.
But they are now inching up.
Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased from about 277 parts per million at the dawn of the Industrial Era to 403 parts per million as of 2016, according to the group’s series of reports.
They are expected to increase by 2.5 parts per million in 2017.
The greatest jump comes from China, where emissions are projected to grow by about 3.5 percent, the group found.
Growing energy demands are driving China’s increase in fossil fuel consumption, it reports, with a 3-percent increase in the use of coal, 5 percent increase in the use of oil and a nearly 12 percent increase in use of natural gas.
In contrast, the United States is expected to see a 0.4 percent decline in emissions this year; in the European Union, emissions will likely drop 0.2 percent.
The planet quickly feels the burn from the lasting effects of fossil fuel combustion. When a fossil fuel burns, it radiates heat and releases carbon dioxide. Once in the atmosphere, some of that carbon dioxide can linger for thousands of years and trap heat that would otherwise leak into space.
The new report comes as policymakers are gathering in Germany for the United Nations Climate Conference, the latest round of talks on the 2015 Paris climate change agreement.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former US vice president Al Gore were among the leaders of the US coalition during a series of speeches and panel discussions in Bonn on Sunday in a grand pavilion named the “US Climate Action Center.”
Fighting climate change
States, cities and businesses have power that they can leverage in the fight against climate change — even though the federal government wants to bail out, the American leaders told the crowd.
President Donald Trump has announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris agreement at the first possible date in 2020, saying it hurts American business.
Canada and Great Britain are expected to launch a joint campaign urging other countries to phase out their reliance on coal-fired energy.
The Global Carbon Project’s report appears in the November 13 issue of the journal Environmental Research Letters with data published simultaneously in a paper led by Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, who is also part of the Global Carbon Project. Stanford’s Jackson also co-authored a commentary in the journal Nature Climate Change on tracking emissions to the Paris agreement.
Despite the discouraging findings of the international team, there are signs of hope in improved energy efficiency and the falling cost of renewable energy such as solar or wind power, Jackson, professor in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, said in a statement.
The cost of solar energy, wind, batteries and LEDs have all dropped from 50 to 90 percent since 2008—so a clean future costs less than a dirty one, he said.
“I remain hopeful,” said Jackson. “In the US, cities, states and companies have seized leadership on energy efficiency and low-carbon renewables that the federal government has abdicated.”
“Prices for wind and solar power are plummeting, and batteries and storage are helping to balance supply and demand for electricity,” said Jackson. “The world’s energy future is changing before our eyes.”