Global CO2 emissions set to rise again after 3 stable years

Published on
November 13, 2017

The world has not yet reached its peak in carbon dioxide emissions. By the end of 2017, global emissions from fossil fuels and industry are projected to rise by about 2% compared with the preceding year, with an uncertainty range between 0.8% and 3%. This follows a stabilization of emissions during the past 3 years (2014-2016). This will lead to a projected total of 10.0 petagram of carbon emitted in 2017.

This is concluded by the Global Carbon Project (GCP), and announced in a press conference today, 13 November, at the UN Climate Change Conference 2017 (COP23) in Bonn, Germany. The results are published in 3 publications, also appearing 13 November in the journals Nature Climate Change, Environmental Research Letters and Earth System Science Data Discussions.

China, USA and Europe largest emitters

The 3 largest emitters are: China with 26%, the USA with 14%, and Europe (EU28) with 9.1%. Most of the 2% growth in 2017 compared to 2014-2016 is explained by an increase in the emissions in China. This is caused by an increase in industrial production, and partly also to decreased hydro power generation due to lower precipitation in the region. Emissions in Europe are still decreasing by around -0.2% in 2017, which is a slow down from the more significant decrease over the past decade of -2.2% per year. 

The atmospheric CO2 levels reached a concentration of 403 parts per million in 2016, and is projected to increase by 2.5 ppm in 2017. In contrast to the emissions, this accumulation in the atmosphere is slightly lower compared to 2015 and 2016, due to a decreased uptake by the land biosphere in response to droughts caused by the 2015-2016 El Niño. 


Wageningen University contributes to the Global Carbon Budget with estimates of the global carbon sinks using CarbonTracker developed by Wouter Peters and Ingrid van der Laan-Luijkx at the department of Meteorology and Air Quality. CarbonTracker is a data assimilation system that uses atmospheric observations from the global network of measurement stations, in combination with a global atmospheric transport model. “Our CarbonTracker results included in the Global Carbon Budget provide insights in the spatial distribution of the carbon sinks,” says Ingrid van der Laan-Luijkx of Wageningen University. “Around 50% of the CO2 emissions is taken up by the land biosphere and the oceans. We find that most of the carbon sinks are located in the Northern Hemisphere land, followed by the Southern Ocean.” 

With global CO2 emissions from human activities (fossil fuels, industry, and land-use change) rising up to around 41 Gt (billion tons) CO2 by end of this year, it will become more challenging to meet the Paris agreement and to keep global average temperature increases below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C which is actually the aim. Reducing emissions and converting to renewables is crucial, and at the same time the capacity to observe CO2 emissions and verify the emission reductions needs to be improved with better measurements and understanding of carbon cycle variability, especially for the decadal variability in the land and ocean sinks.