This marks a major setback for those hoping climate change-causing pollution had peaked.
Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are surging again after staying flat for three years, climate scientists reported on Monday, a sign that efforts to rein in planet-warming gases still have a long way to go.
Emissions from fossil fuels and industrial uses are projected to grow 2 percent this year, reaching 41 billion tons by the end of 2017, according to the report presented at the United Nations’ climate summit in Bonn, Germany. The increase was predicted to continue in 2018.
Total greenhouse gas emissions remained level, at about 36 billion tons per year from 2014 to 2016, even as the global economy grew, which suggested carbon dioxide emissions had crested with the rise of renewable electricity sources and improved fuel efficiency standards. But emissions from fossil fuels will hit 37 billion tons this year, a report from the Global Carbon Project finds. The report draws from three papers in the journals Nature Climate Change, Environmental Research Letters and Earth System Science Data Discussions.
“This is very disappointing,” Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, said in a statement. “We need to reach a peak in global emissions in the next few years and drive emissions down rapidly afterwards to address climate change and limit its impacts.”
The uptick comes as climate change is becoming more tangible. Vicious hurricanes ravaged the Atlantic this summer, killing hundreds and leaving billions of dollars of destruction in places such as the Barbuda, Puerto Rico and Houston. In August, flooding and mudslides killed thousands in disasters from the South Asian nations of India, Nepal and Bangladesh to Sierra Leone in West Africa. The grueling six-year civil war in Syria, which began shortly after its worst drought in 900 years, is now considered the world’s first major “climate war.”
The increase is particularly alarming because carbon dioxide emitted today has effects decades later, meaning that even if countries completely halted emissions, the world would continue to warm for years to come. And CO2 isn’t the only type of greenhouse gas polluting the atmosphere. Methane traps roughly 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide, and the gas comes from agriculture, coal and gas production, and landfills. Nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, traps about 300 times more heat than carbon dioxide; it’s emitted by soil fertilizers and chemical production. Both are on the rise.