11 June 2019

Global CO2 Emissions on the Rise

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are still on the rise and if we don’t radically change our approach to everyday living, the damage will become completely irreversible…

Last week, Ireland became just the second country to declare a climate emergency, following in the footsteps of the United Kingdom. This, undoubtedly, has been in response to the demand from hundreds of thousands of people for the UK government to dedicate more resources to, and increase action on, climate change. The past year has seen a major boost in awareness of the frightening dangers our planet faces, helped by ‘The David Attenborough Effect’, various documentaries, constant news stories and the Extinction Rebellion protests in London. However, awareness is just the first step – businesses and individuals must act collectively to reduce Co2 output.

What does CO2 do to the environment?

According to The World Resources Institute, since the Industrial Revolution humans have emitted over 2,000 gigatons of Co2 into the atmosphere (a gigaton is one billion metric tonnes). Co2 plays a key role in plant life and helps keep the Earth warm, but increasing levels are linked to global warming and the countless problems that come with it.

Greenhouse Gases – Co2 is one of several greenhouse gases, others include Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Water Vapour. These gases help keep the Earth warm by absorbing energy from the sun and directing it back at the surface. Unfortunately, an oversupply of Co2 creates a major issue – with too much heat being trapped and redirected towards the Earth’s surface. This can and is leading to unprecedented melting of polar ice caps, which in turn leads to rising ocean levels, flooding, loss of habitat and declining numbers of several endangered species.

Vegetation – Although plants need Co2 to complete the process of photosynthesis and for energy, it has been suggested that too much Co2 can actually be damaging to plants and grasslands. A study recently published in the Global Change Biology journal details how plants in a number of different ecosystems appear to actually suffer from too much atmospheric carbon. A worrying thought when we rely on plants to provide the atmosphere with oxygen.

Life – All animals need Co2 to survive. However, as mentioned, rising Co2 level in the atmosphere can have catastrophic effects on animal and human life. Rising sea levels which lead to flooding can displace humans and animals. Melting ice caps mean species such as Polar Bears struggle to eat and live, whilst global warming can lead to severe drought and lack of drinking water – these are but a few examples of what could happen if we do not severely reduce our Co2 emissions.

Who are the main culprits?

If we look at figures released by the EU in 2018 on annual Co2 emissions, it becomes very obvious that some nations care more about cutting emissions than others. The following figures are from the report, and give a very good indication of who the Co2 culprits are:

  • China – 12,000 Metric Tonnes (MT)
  • United States – 12,000 MT
  • India – 2,500 MT
  • Russia – 1,750 MT
  • Germany – 850 MT
  • Brazil – 500 MT
  • Australia – 400 MT
  • France – 325 MT
  • United Kingdom – 300 MT
  • Sweden – 55 MT

Other aspects come into the general analysis of whether a country is trying to reverse climate change, such as renewable energy, energy usage and climate policy.

The Climate Change Performance Index report (CCPI) from 2019 places the UK and India 8th and 11th out of 60 leading nations. So, despite India being one of the leading Co2 emitters, the level of renewable energy used makes them one of the leading nations in the CCPI’s report.

Unsurprisingly, following their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the US is ranked 59/60 by the CCPI with Co2 emissions high and rising, very little renewable energy being used and an incredibly poor climate policy from the current government.

Last month, Vox News put together a fascinating animation that allows us to see the countries with the largest cumulative Co2 emissions since 1750. Despite the UK leading this for many years, it’s clear to see that it is the US that should bear a high level of responsibility for our planet’s climate issues. Follow this link to see the animation.

What more can we do?

Ensuring that governments’ climate policies are progressive and that we are moving away from fossil fuels is essential – we can see by example of the current US government the importance of this. Obviously, spending money on renewable energy and using this energy is a huge help.

There are several ways of removing Co2 from the atmosphere. First, forests absorb a huge amount of Co2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. Ensuring that we are expanding forest areas and looking after current forests will help considerably. Farmland is another area that can significantly absorb Co2. Carbon is stored in soil and, if farmers are willing to plant cover crops or trees on otherwise bare fields, more Co2 will be absorbed.

There are some trials going on of more creative ways of removing Co2 from the atmosphere. The US navy has a protype ‘Seawater Capture’ device. This is a device that effectively removes Co2 from seawater. By reducing Co2 concentration in the ocean, the water then draws in more from the air to regain balance.

In Iceland, some of the more forward-thinking scientists have developed a method in which Co2 is turned into fizzy water and then injected into rocks thousands of feet underground. When the water hits the rock, it fills its cavities and begins solidifying, thanks to the chemical reaction when CO2 interacts with calcium, magnesium, and iron—all present in the basalt rocks of Iceland.

There are also a group of entrepreneurs turning Co2 into fuel.

Natural gas, oil and coal

On a more negative note, the use of natural gas and oil is still on the rise across the globe. Natural Gas use is seeing the greatest acceleration, with much of this being down to it being used as a coal alternative. And due to greater energy requirements in places such as China – where natural gas use has been rising on average 8.4% per year since 2013.

It is also thought that in China oil use is on the rise, again, this is down to sheer demand for energy.

Coal is a little more complicated. Despite coal consumption being on the decline in most major economies since 2013, this could soon be eclipsed by increased use of coal in other countries who currently lack energy access and are trying to make energy supplies more reliable. According to the World Resources Institute, coal consumption in India rose by 5% annually in recent years and is now greater than that of the EU and US combined.

A further worry is the current American government’s unwillingness to accept that climate change is real, and the Presidents’ promise to reopen many of the nations’ coalmines – something that could be catastrophic for our planet!

Emissions highly likely to rise in 2019/2020

Unfortunately, the picture painted for this year so far, and next year, is not good – despite the major hike in awareness, efforts made, and money spent. A publication associated with the Global Carbon Project predicated increases in Co2 emissions in 2019 due to the increasing use of natural gas & oil and the projected economic growth.

As previously discussed, in the battle against Co2 emissions, it is essential that the climate policies in place are progressive enough to meet global targets. But, with the latest climate science suggesting that emissions should peak by 2020 in order to avoid some of the most severe effects of climate change – it seems that certain major nations are letting us down.