Despite calls by the scientific community for the world to dramatically cut greenhouse gas production to address the problem of global warming, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions rose by 2.7 percent over the course of 2018, the largest increase seen in seven years. This news follows a series of call-to-arms warnings released by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. Government’s National Climate Assessment, warning of the urgent need to cut emissions; additionally, a prediction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts that El Niño conditions are very likely to form in the Pacific Ocean over the winter — conditions that may push 2019 into being the hottest year on record.
The increase in CO2 emissions was recorded by three separate studies released by the Global Carbon Project, an international scientific collaboration of academics, government agencies and industry that tracks greenhouse gas emissions. The three studies project that human civilization will release 37.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the end of the year, up from the 36.2 billion tonnes that was released in 2017. The study authors are concerned that this development will make the goals set by the Paris Accord harder to reach.
"This is terrible news," exclaims Andrew Jones, co-director of Climate Interactive. Although they weren’t involved in these studies, they are a group that models greenhouse gas emissions and their effect on Earth’s climate. "Every year that we delay serious climate action, the Paris goals become more difficult to meet."
The Global Carbon Project’s studies used the emissions of the World’s four heaviest polluters — China, the United States, India and the European Union — and found that the U.S., with a 2.5 percent increase, saw its largest increase since 2013; China fared worse, with a 4.6 percent jump on the year, an increase not seen by the country since 2011.
Study lead author Corinne Le Quéré, a climate change researcher with England’s University of East Anglia, cautions that these stark increases mightn’t repeat themselves in the future, as this year held extenuating circumstances for these two countries: the U.S. saw a combination of a hot summer and cold winter that required more electricity use for heating and air conditioning; and China’s increase was due to an economic stimulus that increased the use of coal-powered manufacturing.
Meanwhile, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting that there is an 80 percent chance that El Niño conditions may form in the Pacific over the Northern Hemisphere winter, and persist through February 2019, with a 50-60 percent chance that those conditions will persist into next spring. The impacts these events have on the Earth’s climate has been more pronounced in recent years due to global warming, and record-breaking back-to-back El Niños pushed temperatures in 2016 high enough to make that year the hottest on record. Although 2017 and 2018 have been spared this dubious honor through the cooling effects of La Niña conditions, the return of El Niño could very well push Earth’s climate into making 2019 the hottest year on record.