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CO2 Emissions Reached a Record High in 2023

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Global carbon emissions hit record levels in 2023, according to new research from the Global Carbon Project.

The annual Global Carbon Budget estimates that 36.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide were emitted through the burning of fossil fuels this year, up 1.1% from 2022.

Emissions did fall in some regions, such as parts of Europe and the United States, but have risen overall.

This isn’t good enough, according to the researchers behind the budget, who say global action to cut fossil fuels is not happening fast enough to prevent dangerous climate change.

Carbon rapture

The Global Carbon Budget report is produced by an international team of more than 120 scientists and provides an annual, peer-reviewed update on the status of carbon emissions and climate change.

The 2023 edition (the 18th annual report), published in Earth System Science Data, projects that global CO2 emissions (fossil and land-use change) will total 40.9 billion tons in 2023.

Emissions from land-use change (such as deforestation) are projected to decrease slightly but are still too high to be offset by current levels of reforestation and afforestation (new forests), according to the report’s authors.

“The impacts of climate change are evident all around us, but action to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels remains painfully slow,” said Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, lead author of the study and chair in mathematical modeling of the climate system at the University of Exeter.

“It now looks inevitable we will overshoot the 1.5 °C target of the Paris Agreement, and leaders meeting at COP28 will have to agree rapid cuts in fossil fuel emissions even to keep the 2 °C target alive,” he continued.

The report documented how carbon emissions are rising and falling in different parts of world. Emissions in 2023 are projected to increase in India (8.2%) and China (4.0%), and decline in the EU (-7.4%), the USA (-3.0%) and the rest of the world (-0.4%).

Other projections include:

  • Globally, emissions from coal (1.1%), oil (1.5%) and gas (0.5%) are all set to increase.
  • Atmospheric CO2 levels should average 419.3 parts per million in 2023, 51% above pre-industrial levels.
  • About half of all CO2 emitted will continue to be absorbed by land and ocean “sinks”, with the rest remaining in the atmosphere where it causes climate change.

The report also noted that global CO2 emissions from fires in 2023 have been larger than the average (based on satellite records since 2003) due to an extreme wildfire season in Canada, where emissions were six to eight times higher than average.

As for technological efforts to mitigate climate change, the authors estimate that current levels of tech-based carbon capture amount to about 0.01 million tons CO2, more than a million times less than current fossil CO2 emissions.

“The latest CO2 data shows that current efforts are not profound or widespread enough to put global emissions on a downward trajectory towards Net Zero, but some trends in emissions are beginning to budge, showing climate policies can be effective,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a Royal Society Research Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia.

“Global emissions at today’s level are rapidly increasing the CO2 concentration in our atmosphere, causing additional climate change and increasingly serious and growing impacts,” she continued. “All countries need to decarbonize their economies faster than they are at present to avoid the worse impacts of climate change."

This article is a rework of a press release issued by the University of Exeter. Material has been edited for length and content.