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Persistent fossil fuel growth threatens the Paris Agreement and planetary health

Robert B. Jackson, Pierre Friedlingstein, Robbie Andrew, Josep G. Canadell, Corinne Le Quéré, Glen Peters

Amidst declarations of planetary emergency and reports that the window for limiting climate change to 1.5 °C is rapidly closing, global average temperatures and fossil fuel emissions continue to rise. Global fossil CO2 emissions have grown three years consecutively: +1.5% in 2017, +2.1% in 2018, and our slower central projection of +0.6% in 2019 (range of –0.32% to 1.5%) to 37 ± 2 Gt CO2 (Friedlingstein et al 2019 Earth Syst. Sci. Data accepted), after a temporary growth hiatus from 2014 to 2016. Economic indicators and trends in global natural gas and oil use suggest a further rise in emissions in 2020 is likely. CO2 emissions are decreasing slowly in many industrialized regions, including the European Union (preliminary estimate of −1.7% [–3.4% to +0.1%] for 2019, −0.8%/yr for 2003–2018) and United States (−1.7% [–3.7% to +0.3%] in 2019, −0.8%/yr for 2003–2018), while emissions continue growing in India (+1.8% [+0.7% to 3.7%] in 2019, +5.1%/yr for 2003–2018), China (+2.6% [+0.7% to 4.4%] in 2019, +0.4%/yr for 2003–2018), and rest of the world ((+0.5% [−0.8% to 1.8%] in 2019, +1.4%/yr for 2003–2018). Two under-appreciated trends suggest continued long-term growth in both oil and natural gas use is likely. Because per capita oil consumption in the US and Europe remains 5- to 20-fold higher than in China and India, increasing vehicle ownership and air travel in Asia are poised to increase global CO2 emissions from oil over the next decade or more. Liquified natural gas exports from Australia and the United States are surging, lowering natural gas prices in Asia and increasing global access to this fossil resource. To counterbalance increasing emissions, we need accelerated energy efficiency improvements and reduced consumption, rapid deployment of electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage technologies, and a decarbonized electricity grid, with new renewable capacities replacing fossil fuels, not supplementing them. Stronger global commitments and carbon pricing would help implement such policies at scale and in time.

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