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Opening session of the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai: The rise in temperature should be limited as much as possible – but emissions are rising and rising

Photo: Peter Dejong / dpa / AP

The number is so tremendous that it is beyond human comprehension: humanity will emit about 36,800,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from fossil fuels this year – about 36.8 billion tons, a figure with eleven digits. This is more than ever before, according to calculations by the Global Carbon Budget Project.

At the same time, emissions must finally fall in order to buffer the worst consequences of the climate crisis. With the Paris Climate Agreement, the international community has agreed to limit the global temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius – ideally even to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

1.5°C limit could be reached in as little as seven years

In some regions of the world, emissions have actually fallen compared to last year, such as the EU (-7.4 percent) and the USA (-3 percent). Emissions from changes in land use are also declining slightly, for example because fewer forests are being cut down. But from a global perspective, emissions are projected to rise again this year – specifically by 1.1 percent compared to the previous year, as the chart below shows.

The reason: coal, oil and gas continue to boom, as can be seen in this diagram. Cement is also responsible for a significant proportion of climate-damaging emissions.

In China, annual emissions are rising by about four percent, although the country actually wants to become climate-neutral by 2060. India is also emitting significantly more greenhouse gases this year, with an increase of more than eight percent.

Further results of the analysis at a glance:

  • Nature can only absorb about half of man-made emissions – oceans and forests, for example, store CO₂. The rest ends up in the atmosphere.

  • Compared to the pre-industrial era, there is now about 50 percent more CO₂ in the atmosphere.

  • The hope that technical systems could filter excess CO₂ out of the air remains utopian at the moment. These currently store around 0.01 million tonnes of CO₂ per year – annual emissions are more than a million times higher.

If emissions continue to rise at the current rate, the global temperature increase could be permanently above 1.5 degrees Celsius in just seven years. Individual years could even crack the politically explosive mark even before that. According to projections, this may happen as early as this year.

More than 120 experts worked on the calculations of the global carbon dioxide budget, which have now been published in the journal Earth System Science Data. One of them is Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich (LMU). "It seems inevitable that we will exceed the 1.5-degree target," she said at a press briefing at the Science Media Center.

The study comes at an explosive time. The world is currently meeting for this year's World Climate Summit – in Dubai, of all places, the country that has become rich with fossil fuels. Pongratz has also arrived. After all, the participating countries have agreed to provide financial support to poorer countries that are particularly threatened by climate change. But what other assurances there will be remains to be seen.

After all, maximum emissions to be reached soon

"We need the heads of state and government here in Dubai to make much greater efforts to reduce emissions if we want to at least meet the two-degree target," says Pongratz. According to the report, global emissions would have to be almost halved by 2030 in order to limit the temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius. The world would have to be climate-neutral by 2080.

Nevertheless, the International Energy Agency sees signs that the use of fossil fuels will reach its peak in 2025 – two years earlier than previously thought. The reason for the optimism is that investments in renewable energies have increased by 2020 percent since 40. At the same time, there is less money to be made with fossil fuels, and prices have fallen noticeably compared to 2022.