By Jeff Tollefson
Humanity’s carbon emissions are likely to surge by 2% in 2017, driven mainly by increased coal consumption in China, scientists reported on 13 November1–3. The unexpected rise would end a three-year period in which emissions remained flat despite a growing global economy.
Researchers with the Global Carbon Project, an international research consortium, presented their findings at the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany. Countries there are ironing out details of how to implement the 2015 Paris climate accord, which calls for limiting global warming to 1.5–2 °C. The projected jump in the world’s greenhouse-gas output underlines the challenges ahead; if the latest analysis proves correct, global carbon dioxide emissions will reach a record-breaking 41 billion tonnes in 2017.
“We were not particularly surprised that emissions are up again, but we were surprised at the size of the growth,” says Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, UK, and co-author of the work, which was published in the journals Nature Climate Change, Environmental Research Letters and Earth System Science Data Discussions. To Le Quéré, the question now is whether 2017 is a temporary blip or a return to business as usual. “If 2018 is as big is 2017, then I will be very discouraged,” she says.
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