Global carbon emissions kept growing this year, but have continued to fall in the US despite Donald Trump’s pro-coal rhetoric and his rollback of Barack Obama’s clean power plan.
As delegates discuss how to cut emissions at UN climate talks in Madrid, the annual Global Carbon Project report shows that they are set to grow 0.6 per cent to just under 37 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019. That is slightly less than the 0.9 per cent per year on average this decade, a slowdown that was caused mainly by a 0.9 per cent global fall in coal use, which plunged by a tenth in the US and European Union.
Glen Peters at the Center for International Climate Research says the figures show that Trump is failing to protect coal in the US, because of the economics of old coal plants squeezed out by gas and renewables.
US emissions are projected to fall 1.7 per cent this year. Not counting the exceptional effect of the 2009 financial crash, that means average annual US emissions cuts have been “more or less the same” under Trump and Obama, says Peters.
High carbon trading prices have put the EU on track for a 1.7 per cent emissions cut too, while India’s usual 5 per cent annual increase dropped to just 1.8 per cent due to a strong monsoon, which hit the economy and boosted hydropower to record levels.
But globally the picture is gloomier. Electric cars failed to dent oil use, which is up 0.9 per cent, while gas rose 2.6 per cent and is now the biggest driver of emissions growth. Emissions from deforestation fires were up because of fires in the Amazon. China, which accounts for more than a quarter of humanity’s emissions, is set for 2.6 per cent growth.
“The urgency of action has just not sunk in yet. There is a lot of talk. There is action, it’s not that there isn’t,” says Corinne Le Quéré at the University of East Anglia, UK. “But this action is still quite confined to relatively specific technologies rather than penetrating across society.”
The anticipated increase is particularly stark given the fact that the UN said last week that big cuts of 7.6 per cent a year are needed to avoid dangerous warming. Peters says such cuts are necessary, but are “pretty radical” and unlikely in reality. More likely is a steady slow growth in emissions, says Le Quéré.
The analysis is based on emissions data up to September and October for the big four emitters – China, the US, India and the EU – and projected forwards to the end of the year.