Fossil fuels and industry emissions
The report highlighting the mean, variations and trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels shows that global fossil fuels emissions have flattened out for a decade.
“China’s decreased coal use largely accounts for the projected decline in emission with slower growth in petroleum use and rapid growth in non fossil energy sources,” said Asher Minns of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.
China is responsible for about 30% of global emissions (compared to USA’s 15% and India’s 6%) and over the last decade is has reduced its emissions. Meanwhile USA’s emissions have also trended down, mainly due to the reduction of coal use due to low price of gas and success of wind and solar. EU’s emissions have a downward trend as well. In contrast, India’s emissions grew at about 5% in 2015 and expected to continue in the decades ahead.
Land Use change emissions
Land use change was the dominant sources of annual carbon dioxide emissions until around 1950s. Emissions in the 2000s were lower than earlier decades but highly uncertain. Higher emissions in 2015 are linked to forest fires. Land use emissions have generally been lower than the last decade.
“Even though emissions have been flat the last couple of years, we are still putting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere,” said Glen Peters, senior researcher of CICERO.
Oceans and lands take up about 50% of the emissions put up in the atmosphere. Atmospheric concentrations grew in 2015-2016 as land and more staying in the atmosphere are taking up less carbon. According to the Global Carbon Budget, 2015-2016 will probably see the highest concentrations of atmospheric concentration recorded, and 2016 will be the first full year with concentration over 400ppm.
“We will need leveling up of emissions until 2025,” said Joeri Rogelj, Research Scholar at the Energy Program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).
The emission reduction pledges made by countries known as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are not in line to keep global warming below 2 degrees, which is required to prevent catastrophic climate change.
“INDCs might help avert the worst but are in no way near what is needed to reach the target,” Rogelj added.
Going Carbon negative?
The Global Carbon Budget 2016 shows aiming for temperature rises below 2 degrees is getting ever tighter given the current levels of emissions. Emissions need to go to zero, and this will require the use of negative emissions, which refers to removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The report outlines various methods of going carbon negative, including afforestation and reforestation, carbon capture and storage, biochar i.e. adding partly burnt biomass to soils to absorb additional carbon dioxide and air capture, whereby carbon dioxide is removed from ambient air through chemical processes and stored underground.
However, different options to reduce carbon from the atmosphere come with different tradeoffs. Carbon capture and storage for instance require a lot of land to cultivate to produce the bio energy.
“Negative emissions cannot be standalone, they need to comes on top of everything else we can do,” said Dr. Sabine Fuss of the Mercator Research Institute of Global Commons and Climate Change.
According to the Global Carbon Budget, rapid short term decarbonization of supply and demand, not locking into carbon intensive infrastructure and preparing for sustainable ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is the dominant strategy.
The Way Forward
While hurdles remain, the unexpected flattening of emission as laid out by the Global Carbon Budget gives the world an opportunity to increase ambition for climate action at COP 22. “This is the right opportunity to lock in the gains,” Dr. Fuss added.
While the Global Carbon Budget was prepared without factoring in the outcome of the US election, the question of the Trump presidency’s possible impact is inevitable.
“Gas is cheaper so it is gradually replacing oil. It will be pretty hard for Trump to do something that will make coal suddenly more competitive,” Peters said.
“US has 15% of global emissions and the rest of the world has 85%, so the rest of the world can do an awful lot even if the US is slow over the next few years,” he added.