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co₂ emissions from coal use are expected to grow 1.1% in 2023, reaching a record high and exceeding the temporary peak in 2014. Photo Omid Roshan by Unsplash

Global fossil co₂ emissions continue to increase despite clean energy progress

Global fossil co₂ emissions are expected to grow 1.1% in 2023 despite record progress in clean energy. A renewed focus on limiting the use of coal, oil, and gas is needed. 

On the 5th of December, the Global Carbon Project (GCP) published its annual analysis of trends in the global carbon cycle in the journal Earth System Science Data, including a full-year projection for 2023. 

Global fossil co₂ emissions1 are expected to grow 1.1% in 2023 (with an uncertainty2 range of 0.0% to 2.1%). This is higher than the average growth rate of 0.5% per year over the last ten years. 

Global fossil co₂ emissions are now 6% higher than in 2015, the year the Paris Agreement was negotiated. 

“We continually see record growth in clean energy, but we have failed to put sufficient controls on the growth of fossil fuels and therefore co₂ emissions just keep rising,” said Glen Peters, a Senior Researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research. 

Coal, oil, and gas continue to grow 

co₂ emissions from coal use are expected to grow 1.1% [0.1% to 2.4%] in 2023, reaching a record high and exceeding the temporary peak in 2014. The growth in coal is driven by China and India, with drops in coal use in the USA and EU27. 

co₂ emissions from oil use are expected to grow 1.5% [0.6% to 2.3%], primarily due to an increase in international aviation and ground transportation in China. co₂ emissions from oil use remain below their 2019 levels before the COVID19 pandemic hit in 2020. 

co₂ emissions from natural gas use have grown a sustained 2% per year over the last ten years but this growth has stopped since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Emissions from gas use are expected to grow a small 0.5% [-0.9% to 1.8%] in 2023. The increased growth in China is largely offset by the decline in the EU. 

Large increases in fossil co₂ emissions in China, India, and international aviation 

Fossil co₂ emissions in China are projected to grow 4.0% in 2023 [1.9% to 6.1%]. Growth in 2023 is partly caused by a delayed rebound from significant COVID-19 lockdowns in China in 2022. 

“China has seen continued strong growth in wind and solar power, without which emissions growth would have been much higher,” said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Senior Researcher at CICERO, who makes the projections for Chinese emissions. “But solar and wind couldn’t meet high electricity demand growth and low hydropower production due to drought, so coal power generation also grew. In addition, increased travel and domestic transport led to strong growth in oil consumption, after a drop during the COVID lockdowns in 2022,” he said. 

Indian fossil co₂ emissions are project to increase 8.2% in 2023 [6.7% to 9.7%]. Growth in coal is largely driven by high growth in demand for power, with new renewables capacity far from sufficient to meet this growth. 

“Consolidated data confirms that India’s fossil co₂ emissions are now comfortably above those of the EU,” said Robbie Andrew, a Senior Researcher at CICERO who does the projections for India and the EU and compiles the fossil co₂ emissions data. 

For the first time in this year’s global carbon budget, the scientists separate the growth caused by international aviation and shipping. International aviation and shipping combined are projected to increase by 11.9% in 2023. 

International aviation continued to recover from pandemic lows and is projected to grow 28% in 2023, while international shipping already recovered from the pandemic by late 2020 and is projected to rise by 1% in 2023. 

Fossil co₂ emissions decline in the US and EU 

Fossil co₂ emissions in the USA are projected to decrease by 3.0% in 2023 [-5.0% to -1.0%]. A sharp decline in coal is largely driven retirements of coal-fired power stations and cheaper natural gas. The rise in natural gas consumption in the power sector is largely offset by reduced heating demand resulting from milder winter temperatures in 2023. 

“Emissions from coal use in the USA have now dropped to levels last seen in 1903,” said Andrew. 

In the European Union (EU27) fossil co₂ emissions are projected to decrease 7.4% in 2023 [-9.9% to -4.9%]. Coal and gas use have been driven down by increased renewables capacity and the continued effects of the energy crisis, with high energy prices and other inflationary factors leading to lower energy demand. 

co₂ emissions from land-use change continue their uncertain trend downwards 

Total co₂ emissions combine estimates of fossil co₂ emissions and co₂ emissions from land-use change. 

Global net co₂ emissions from land-use change (LUC3) averaged 4.7 Gtco₂ per year for the past decade (2013-2022) with a preliminary projection for 2023 of 4.1 Gtco₂. Global net land-use change co₂ emissions show a small but uncertain decline over the past two decades, mainly attributed to forest regrowth. Because of large uncertainty, the decreasing trend is yet to be confirmed. 

Total co₂ emissions (fossil plus LUC) have grown slightly at 0.2% per year in the last ten years and are projected to be 41.6 Gtco₂ in 2023, a 0.4% rise in 2023. The total is 40.9Gtco₂ when including uptake from cement carbonation4

The world is not on track to meet its climate goals 

Atmospheric co₂ concentrations have increased on average 2.4 parts per million (ppm) per year in the last ten years and are projected to increase 2.4ppm in 2023 to reach 419.3 parts per million, 51% above its pre-industrial level. 

The emerging El Niño event is expected to have a small effect on the combined land and ocean co₂ sinks in 2023, and hence the observed atmospheric co₂ growth rate. However, this effect is expected to continue to develop over the coming months, leading to higher growth in atmospheric co₂ levels in 2024. 

For co₂ concentrations to decline and to keep global warming from rising further, co₂ emissions need to reach zero. New research published in Nature Climate Change on the 4 December (involving similar authors) assesses some key climate system uncertainties at the time of net zero emissions. 

“Net zero has become the common catch phrase for doing something on climate, but at its core is the necessity to reduce co₂ emissions to near zero,” said Peters, “If countries and companies are not radically reducing co₂ emissions, then they are in no way consistent with the scientific concept of net zero emissions.” 

Despite nearly 90% of the world having a net zero target, emissions continue to rise. 

“The continued growth of global emissions shows clearly that it is more urgent than ever to act if we want to have the possibility to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to well below two degrees,” said CICERO Director Kristin Halvorsen. 

“Both Norway and the world must move away from investments in new coal, oil and gas supply, at the same time as accelerating investments in renewable energy,” said Halvorsen.

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1 The global fossil co₂ emission include co₂ emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and gas, and in chemical processes such as the production of cement. The estimates presented here do not include the small uptake from cement carbonation. 

2 The 2023 emission projection is based on the use of monthly energy data, with the latest data between August and October, and we then make judgements about how emissions may develop for the remainder of 2023. 

3 Net co₂ emissions from land-use change refer to emissions, but also removals, from land-use, land-use change and forestry, such as deforestation, re/afforestation, and forest management. They exclude co₂ fluxes from vegetation in response to changing co₂ concentration and climate conditions. 

4 Carbonation is the reaction of co₂ with the calcium hydroxides in cement. It starts from the moment cement is created and continues for hundreds of years, with the amount and rate of uptake depending on the exposure of the cement to air.