By Kendra Pierre-Louis
Greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are growing at an accelerating pace this year, researchers said Wednesday, putting the world on track to face some of the most severe consequences of global warming sooner than expected.
Scientists described the quickening rate of carbon dioxide emissions in stark terms, comparing it to a “speeding freight train” and laying part of the blame on an unexpected surge in the appetite for oil as people around the world not only buy more cars but also drive them farther than in the past — more than offsetting any gains from the spread of electric vehicles.
“We’ve seen oil use go up five years in a row,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford and an author of one of two studies published Wednesday. “That’s really surprising.”
Worldwide, carbon emissions are expected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018, according to the new research, which was published by the Global Carbon Project, a group of 100 scientists from more than 50 academic and research institutions and one of the few organizations to comprehensively examine global emissions numbers. Emissions rose 1.6 percent last year, the researchers said, ending a three-year plateau.
Reducing carbon emissions is central to stopping global warming. Three years ago nearly 200 nations hammered out the Paris Agreement with a goal of holding warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (two degrees Celsius) over pre-industrial levels.
Avoiding that threshold — already considered challenging — is viewed as a way to stave off some of the worst effects of climate change, like melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels. For the Paris goals to be met, scientists say, global emissions from power plants, factories, cars and trucks, as well as those from deforestation, would need to swiftly begin declining to zero.
President Trump, however, has vowed to pull the United States out of the accord and has moved to roll back Obama-era regulations designed to limit emissions from vehicle tailpipes and power-plant smokestacks. On Tuesday he wrote on Twitter that the Paris Agreement was “fatally flawed” because its system of voluntary pledges let other countries off the hook, adding that “American taxpayers — and American workers — shouldn’t pay to clean up others countries’ pollution.”
An American withdrawal would represent a serious blow to the pact. The United States, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, is responsible for a third of all human-caused carbon emissions to date, more than any other country. China is now the largest emitter of heat-trapping gases.
The new report comes as delegates from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Poland to debate their next steps under the Paris climate agreement. Many nations haven’t been meeting their self-imposed targets.
The new assessment is the third major scientific report in recent months to send a message that the world is failing to make sufficient progress to avoid the worst effects of climate change.