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Growth in Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions is Set to Slow in 2019

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and industry are expected to grow slowly in 2019 due to a decline in global coal use, according to a major scientific study released on Wednesday.

The growth rate in 2019 is set to fall to 0.6 percent, down from 2.1 percent the previous year. This is due to declines in coal use in the European Union and the United States, as well as slower growth in coal use in China and India, and overall weaker global economic growth. The decline in coal use has been offset by sustained growth in oil and natural gas.

The study has an uncertainty range between -0.2 percent and +1.5 percent (or +/- 0.7 percent). A decline in global emissions in 2019 cannot be ruled out given uncertainties in the projection.

The projection comes from the 2019 Global Carbon Budget, published on Wednesday by the Global Carbon Project in the journals Nature Climate Change, Environmental Research Letters, and Earth System Science Data. The Global Carbon Project is supported by Future Earth and the World Climate Research Programme. It is the first full-year estimate of the increase in global fossil carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2019.

The recent growth in low-carbon technologies (solar, wind, electric vehicles) have, at best, only slowed the growth in global fossil fuel emissions. The world is still far from seeing the aggressive emission reductions necessary to be in line with the “well below 2°C” global warming limit set out by the Paris Agreement to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

“Carbon dioxide emissions must decline sharply if the world is to meet the ‘well below 2°C’ mark set out in the Paris Agreement, and every year with growing emissions makes that target even more difficult to reach,” said Robbie Andrew, a Senior Researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Norway.

The announcement comes as nations meet in Madrid, Spain for the annual United Nations climate negotiations (COP25).

Global emissions from coal use are expected to decline 0.9 percent in 2019 (range: -2.0 percent to +0.2 percent) due to an estimated 10 percent fall in the United States and a 10 percent fall in Europe, combined with weak growth in coal use in China (+0.8 percent) and India (+2 percent).

This overall global drop in coal comes as the relative price of gas and renewables has dropped, helping to displace coal in power generation.

Emissions from oil are expected to slow to 0.9 percent this year (range: +0.3 percent to +1.6 percent). Emissions from natural gas use have been growing steadily and almost uninterrupted for over half a century and are projected to grow 2.5 percent this year (range: +1.3 percent to +3.9 percent). This growth rate is the fastest of any fossil fuel source.

“The weak growth in carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 is due to an unexpected decline in global coal use, but this drop is insufficient to overcome the robust growth in natural gas and oil consumption,” said Glen Peters, Research Director at CICERO.

“Global commitments made in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions are not yet being matched by proportionate actions,” said Peters. “Despite political rhetoric and rapid growth in low carbon technologies such as solar and wind power, electric vehicles, and batteries, global fossil carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be more than four percent higher in 2019 than in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was adopted.”

Preliminary estimates of emissions from fire deforestation and other land-use change for 2019 reached 6 billion tonnes of CO2, about 0.8 billion tonnes above 2018 levels. This increase stems partly from increased fire activity in the Amazon, in line with data from the Brazilian Space Agency showing that deforestation in the Brazilian part of the Amazon has steadily increased since 2008, reaching its highest level in 2019. Fire activity was also unusually high in deforestation zones of Indonesia.

Global fossil CO2 emissions (fossil fuels, industry, and cement) grew at over 3 percent per year in the 2000s, but growth has slowed since 2010, and from 2014 to 2016 emissions remained relatively flat with only a slight increase. Yet carbon emissions rose in 2017, and then again strongly in 2018. Emissions in 2019 are more than 60 percent higher than in 1990 when the first IPCC report was published.

“This year’s Carbon Budget underscores the need for more definitive climate action from all sectors of society, from national and local governments to the private sector,” said Amy Luers, Future Earth’s Executive Director. “Like the youth climate movement is demanding, this requires large-scale systems changes – looking beyond traditional sector-based approaches to cross-cutting transformations in our governance and economic systems.”

Burning gas emits about 40 percent less CO2 than coal per unit energy, but it is not a zero-carbon fuel. While CO2 emissions are likely to decline when gas displaces coal in electricity production, Global Carbon Project researchers say it is only a short-term solution at best. All CO2 emissions will need to decline rapidly towards zero.

“Compared to coal, natural gas is a cleaner fossil fuel, but unabated natural gas merely cooks the planet more slowly than coal,” said Peters. “While there may be some short-term emission reductions from using natural gas instead of coal, natural gas use needs to be phased out quickly on the heels of coal to meet ambitious climate goals.”

Oil and gas use have grown almost unabated in the last decade. Gas use has been pushed up by declines in coal use and increased demand for gas in industry. Oil is used mainly to fuel personal transport, freight, aviation and shipping, and to produce petrochemicals.

The 2019 Carbon Budget at a glance

Atmospheric CO2 concentration is set to reach 410 ppm on average in 2019, 47 percent above pre-industrial levels.

Chinese emissions look set to grow about 2.6 percent (range: +0.7 percent to +4.4 percent) in 2019. China accounts for 50 percent of global coal use.

“There was hope that China was rapidly moving away from coal use, but coal consumption in the country continues to grow, albeit modestly,” said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Senior Researcher at CICERO. “China uses half of all coal in the world, and coal looks set to stay the biggest source of both energy and CO2 emissions in China for many years to come.”

U.S. emissions look set to fall about 1.7 percent (range: -3.7 percent to +0.3 percent) in 2019 as cheap gas, and to a lesser extent wind and solar, continue to displace coal. Coal use is expected to fall by 10.5 percent.

Indian emissions look set to slow down to 1.8 percent (range: +0.7 percent to +3.7 percent) in 2019. India’s economy has slowed significantly through 2019, affecting consumption of coal and oil, and production of cement. A heavy monsoon also affected coal production and consumption, with September’s rainfall 52 percent higher than the long-term average. This also contributed to higher than usual generation of electricity from hydropower.

EU28 emissions look set for a small decline of −1.7 percent (range: −3.4 percent to +0.1 percent) in 2019, with coal use set to fall by 10 percent.

Rest of the World. Emissions in the rest of the world are expected to grow 0.5 percent (range: -0.8 percent to +1.8 percent) in 2019.

The Global Carbon Project (GCP) is an international research project within the Future Earth research initiative on global sustainability. It aims to develop a complete picture of the global carbon cycle, including both its biophysical and human dimensions together with the interactions and feedbacks between them. The Global Carbon Budget 2019 is the 14th edition of the annual update since the start in 2006. Data and methods are detailed in the publications cited at the end of this document.

The Budget is produced by 76 scientists from 57 research institutions in 15 countries working under the umbrella of the GCP. The budget, now in its 14th year, provides an in-depth look at the amount of fossil fuels that nations around the world burn and where it ends up.

Future Earth is governed by the International Science Council (ISC), Belmont Forum of funding agencies, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations University (UNU), the World Meteorological Organization, and the Science and Technology in Society (STS) forum.

Press Conference

A press conference about this research takes place at the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 25) Madrid, on Wednesday December 4, 10:30-11:00 CET, at Mocha Room in Hall 4.

A Side-event also takes place on December 4, 16:45-18:15 CET, Room 5.

Media Inquires

Alistair Scrutton, Future Earth, Director of Communications, Sweden: alistair.scrutton@ futureearth.org; +46 707 211098

Publications

This media release is part of the Global Carbon Budget 2019, the annual update by the Global Carbon Project. It is based on the analyses:

  • Friedlingstein et al. (2019) Global Carbon Budget 2019. Earth System Science Data. https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-11-1783-2019
  • Peters G.P., R.M. Andrew, J.G. Canadell, P. Friedlingstein, R.B. Jackson, J.I. Korsbakken, C. Le Quéré, and A. Peregon (2019). Carbon dioxide emissions continue to grow amidst slowly emerging climate policies. Nature Climate Change. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0659-6
  • Jackson, R.B., P. Friedlingstein, R. M. Andrew, J.G. Canadell, C. Le Quéré, G.P. Peters (2019). Persistent Fossil Fuel Emissions Threaten the Paris Agreement and Planetary Health, Environmental Research Letters. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab57b3

Access to material

Data and figures: http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget
Data interface for exploring data: http://www.globalcarbonatlas.org