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World could see catastrophic climate change in just nine years, study shows

A fire truck passes a backfire operation during the Mosquito fire near Volcanoville, California, US, on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. The wildfire, which started Tuesday evening north of the Oxbow Reservoir, had burned nearly 34,000 acres by Saturday morning and remains 0% contained, making it one of the state’s largest wildfires of the season so far, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.Benjamin Fanjoy/Bloomberg

Global carbon pollution from fossil fuel usage will hit record levels this year, a major new study shows, climbing past pre-pandemic levels and setting the world on a path to pass a dangerous climate benchmark that scientists have been warily eyeing for years.

Continuing to emit at this rate will lead the world to warm by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, blowing past the more ambitious goals of the Paris Climate Accord to keep heating below that level. That level of increase, scientists warn, could kill off almost all coral reefs, leave swaths of the world underwater, and generally bring about climate catastrophe. The findings come from an annual report by the Global Carbon Project that assesses how much planet-heating carbon the world can spew out while staying within warming targets.

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This year’s findings are especially bleak. There is now a 50-50 chance that we’ll cross that critical 1.5-degree threshold within just nine years, the authors say.

All told, in 2022 the world is projected to emit some 40.3 US tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels, which is 1 percent more than the world emitted in 2021.

The previous global record, set in 2019 before COVID-19 lockdowns curbed activity in some polluting industries and caused emission rates to temporarily fall, was 40 US tons.

The biggest driver of this year’s growth in carbon emissions was the burning of oil products, largely due to the rebound of air travel after COVID-19 lockdowns ended.

This year, carbon emissions from oil increased by 2 percent over last year, while emissions from coal usage increased by 1 percent, and emissions from gas decreased by 0.2 percent, the analysis says.

Amid the dark findings, there are a glimmers of hope. While annual emissions are increasing, they’re doing so at a slower rate than a decade ago. And though fossil fuel emissions are rising, the annual amount of carbon released by deforestation and changes in land use appear to be on the decline; when that’s taken into account, annual global carbon emissions have been roughly flat since 2015.

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Still, leading climate scientists have warned the world must cut carbon emissions in half by the end of the decade to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that doing so will require dramatically curbing the use of fossil fuels. There is “no sign” of that kind of worldwide decrease, the new report’s authors say.

The responsibility for the increase in global emissions isn’t shared evenly. In China, which is currently the world’s top contributor to carbon pollution, emissions are projected to decline in 2022 by roughly 0.9 percent this year — the first drop since 2016 — due mostly to disruptions from COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as the growth of renewable energy.

By contrast, the United States’ emissions are projected to increase by roughly 1.5 percent in 2022, driven by a surge in gas usage and an uptick in aviation. The US is currently the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gases, and the largest historical emitter.

The Global Carbon Budget was released at the United Nations COP27 climate summit in Egypt, where President Biden spoke on Friday.

Biden said the United States will “do our part to avert” reaching “climate hell, and that the Inflation Reduction Act, which he signed into law in August, will help ensure the nation meets its emission reduction goals.

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Not everyone was impressed with Biden’s speech, especially in light of the new Global Carbon Budget report. Critics note that the Inflation Reduction Act included provisions to approve new fossil fuel infrastructure, which could blunt any emissions reductions that it’s set to catalyze.

“Biden came to COP boasting of ‘climate game changers’ but left out the most crucial play of all: stopping deadly fossil fuels,” said Jean Su, energy justice director at the environmental nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.


Dharna Noor can be reached at dharna.noor@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.