Paris is burning! Carbon emissions on the rise

  Last updated December 7, 2018 at 3:52 pm


Global carbon emissions have risen again in 2018, prompting experts to sound the alarm.

Global carbon emissions have risen 2.7 per cent in 2018 driven largely by contributions from China, India and the US, according to the Australian led Global Carbon Project.

There were only 19 countries, including the UK whose emissions are decreasing despite a growth in GDP.

For the US, the 2.5 per cent increase in emissions reverses a 10-year decreasing emissions trend. Dr Pep Canadell from CSIRO who is the Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project said the cold winter and warm summer in the US no doubt had an impact on their emissions with gas growth up more than nine per cent.

“In a way this shows just how delicate these trends are,” he told an AusSMC media briefing

China remains the world’s largest emitter and coal the major source. Renewable energy is growing and doubling in capacity almost every four years but that is not enough to offset long-term growth trends in oil and gas use.

Pep Canadell said to reach the target of limiting temperatures to a 1.5 degree we can no longer say emissions need to come down “over the next three years.”

“Emissions need to come down immediately,” he said.

“The gap between what we need to do and what we are doing is just growing.”

Australian greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise

In Australia trends are also heading in the wrong direction, total greenhouse gas emissions have increased every year since the carbon price was abolished in 2014. While electricity emissions have fallen around 3 per cent thanks to investment in renewables, emissions from industry, transport and waste are all growing.

Australia is unlikely to meet its Paris targets “in a canter” according to Professor Frank Jotzo from ANU. “Electricity sector emissions reductions could potentially go a long way towards helping towards helping to meet it but at the end of the day, electricity accounts for only one-third of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

“The economy is growing significantly faster than carbon emissions,” said Professor Frank Jotzo from ANU. “But is happening slowly and more slowly than it would need to happen to be in line with the Paris agreement goals.”

Oceania, which is dominated by Australia tops the world regions with the highest rate of emissions per person.

Technologies exist to reverse trend

Despite this bad news, several experts say there is still grounds for hope.

“We have the technologies we need to greatly reduce carbon emissions at low cost. The key steps are replacing coal-fired and gas-fired electricity with renewables, and then electrifying transport,” said Professor John Quiggin from the University of Queensland.

Professor David Stern from ANU agrees that there were still grounds for optimism saying based on current trends, new renewables will eventually grow fast enough for carbon emissions to fall even under current policy settings.

Catalytic technologies which use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide to methanol for fuel are in their infancy, but Professor Stephen Lincoln from the University of Adelaide thinks they may be worth investing in given Australia’s abundant sunshine.

“Every jurisdiction in the world needs to do its bit,” concluded Professor Jotzo.


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About the Author

Lyndal Byford
Lyndal is the Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre. She spends her days turning complex science papers into tasty morsels to help news journalists cover science. Lyndal has an Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Flinders University and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University. She has spent the last 20 years communicating science in a range of settings including science museums, within the pharmaceutical industry and in media relations both here and in the UK. Lyndal regularly speaks about science on ABC Radio National and 2CC in Canberra. Lyndal was also a member of Inspiring Australia’s Science and the Media Expert working group for the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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