Natural gas drives record CO2 emissions in 2019

Katie Ramirez
December 5, 2019

"It's troubling, because carbon dioxide pollution is higher than it's ever been". Projections for increasing private vehicle ownership in China, India and other developing markets suggest demand for oil will continue to grow for years to come.

Global carbon emissions grew by 1.5% in 2017 and 2.1% in 2018, after plateauing in the middle of the decade.

A slower pace of cuts of about 3 percent per year would keep the world on track for around 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100 - a level of warming that would have severe consequences, including the death of almost all coral reefs and the possible destabilization of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. In India's case, the most recent official numbers relating to all kinds of emissions pertain to 2014.

The Zero Carbon Act was criticised for a lack of ambition, due to the fact that methane, which makes up 40 per cent of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, was only included under a separate target.

But the findings were not entirely negative.

Substantial decline in coal use in the United States and the European Union combined with slower growth off coal use in China and India and weaker economic growth globally particularly in China an India have contributed to slowing down carbon dioxide emissions. Renewable energy is on the rise, too, and the US and Europe are using less coal.

The scheme requires companies to buy carbon credits to offset their emissions, but the scheme has been gutted by a series of half-measures.

"We're not in the same position we were five or 10 years ago", Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia and a member of the team that published Tuesday's figures, said in an interview. "We're making progress, but we haven't yet done our part".

"The fact remains that the world is now on track for a high emissions pathway and we need to decrease emissions to net-zero globally by the middle of this century to stop further warming of the planet", he added.

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While emissions fell in the United States and Europe during 2019, they are projected to have grown in China (by 2.6 percent), India (1.8 percent) and the rest of the world (by 0.5 percent). Coal, for instance, is on the decline, especially in Europe and the U.S. Overall carbon emissions from coal declined by about 0.9 per cent this year, which sounds great, because it's the most polluting fossil fuel in terms of carbon. Though the authors are quick to point out, the drop in coal was offset by a continued rise in natural oil and gas.

"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 Oslo-based climate research centre CICERO. This is lowering natural gas prices in Asia, and increasing global access to the fossil resource, they said.

Overall, global carbon emissions from human activity are set to reach 43.1 billion tonnes in 2019.

While some of that gas will be absorbed into the oceans and some will be consumed by plants, much will linger in the atmosphere, strengthening the greenhouse effect.

This year's modest rise, if indeed it is a rise, as the margin of error is large, reflects some significant changes in the demand for fossil fuels. A similar method is used for India.

The estimate of 0.6 percent emissions growth also comes with some uncertainty. USA generation from coal is projected to decline 11% from 2018 to 2019 to a level that has not been witnessed for more than 50 years, about half of what its peak was in 2005.

Jackson said a faster shift toward cleaner energy could create new jobs, improve national security and have measurable public health benefits.

One vital step, she said, is for the State to stop granting licences for gas exploration and to instead "throw its full weight" behind a rapid transition to renewable energy that ensures a just transition for those now working in the fossil fuel sector.

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