Fossil CO2 emissions reach new record high

The new report by the Global Carbon Project shows: Fossil CO2 emissions will reach a record high in 2023.
If emissions remain this high, the carbon budget that remains before reaching the 1.5°C limit will probably be used up in seven years.
Although emissions from land use are decreasing slightly, they are still too high to be compensated by renewable forests and reforestation.

The time remaining to achieve the climate targets of the Paris Agreement is running out faster and faster. This is shown by the annual assessment of the Global Carbon Project (GCP), an association of international scientists with strong German participation, in which Sönke Zaehle and Christian Rödenbeck from the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry were also involved as authors. According to the report, fossil CO2 emissions are expected to total 36.8 billion tons in 2023 and reach a new record level, which is 1.1% higher than in 2022.

The regional trends were very different: while fossil fuel emissions rose in India and China (+8.2% and +4.0% respectively), they fell in Europe and the USA (-7.4% and -3.0% respectively), and slightly in the rest of the world (-0.4%). The authors attribute the decline in Europe to the expansion of renewable energies and the effects of the energy crisis. The growth in China was partly due to a delayed recovery from the effects of the COVID-related lockdowns.

Global CO2 emissions far from the required savings

Together with emissions from land use, global CO2 emissions will amount to around 40.9 billion tons in 2023. According to the authors, this is a very far from the significant reductions that would be necessary to achieve the Paris climate targets. While the estimate of the remaining carbon budget is subject to large uncertainties, it is clear that time is running out fast: if current levels of CO2 emissions continue, the remaining carbon budget for a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C could be used up in seven years and for limiting warming to 1.7°C in 15 years. "Unless greater efforts are made to reduce emissions, it seems inevitable that we will exceed the 1.5°C target," says Julia Pongratz, Professor of Physical Geography and Land Use Systems at LMU Munich.

CO2 withdrawal reported for the first time

Although emissions from deforestation have decreased slightly, only around half of the emissions from deforestation are currently offset by CO2 uptake in renewable forests and reforestation. Technical solutions such as Direct Air Capture and Carbon Storage (DACCS), which function independently of vegetation, are currently only removing a negligible amount of CO2 from the atmosphere.

El Niño is making its presence felt

For 2023, scientists estimate that around half of the CO2 emitted will be absorbed by sinks on land and in the sea. The rest will be released into the atmosphere, whose CO2 content will rise to an annual average of around 419 ppm (parts per million). The scientists assume that the influence of the El Niño weather phenomenon will affect the CO2 sinks on land and in the sea in 2023 as well as in 2024. "In El Niño years, drought stress and forest fires increase in regions such as the Amazon and Southeast Asia, thus reducing the global land sink," explains Sönke Zaehle, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and co-author of the study. As El Nino is expected to continue to intensify in the coming months, an even stronger overall increase in atmospheric CO2 levels can be expected in 2024.

The Global Carbon Budget Report, produced by an international team of more than 120 scientists, provides an annual peer-reviewed update that is based on best practice and is fully transparent. It will be launched on December 5 at a press conference at the 28th UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai, where representatives from over 200 countries will meet to discuss the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

From German-speaking countries, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute (Bremerhaven), ETH Zurich, the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research (Kiel), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research (Warnemünde), the Ludwig Maximilian University (Munich), the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (Hamburg), the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (Jena), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Bern, contributed to the report with ocean observations, model simulations of the ocean, land and atmosphere as well as analyses.

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