Record Emissions: 41 Billion Tons of Heat-Trapping Carbon Dioxide Were Added to the Atmosphere This Year 

Over the past few years, something pretty amazing and hopeful happened. Global carbon emissions began to stabilize. This was caused, primarily, by stronger emissions reduction policies in China even as the rest of the world moved steadily away from coal burning and more and more toward adopting clean energy systems provided by the likes of wind, solar and electrical vehicles.

But during 2017, there appears to have been a return to rising emissions rates from both China and the rest of the world. As a result, a rather bad global climate situation is continuing to worsen.

China’s Swing Back to Coal and More Rapid Growth Result in Rising Emissions

As the major present emitter of carbon dioxide and a host to hundreds of hothouse gas spewing coal plants, any big move by China can also really move the global carbon emission total. We saw this in practice from 2013 to 2016 as China began to reign in rampant coal consumption and as global emissions levels subsequently responded.

(During recent years, global carbon emissions have plateaued. But during 2017, a new record high was reached on the back of a return to increased rates of coal burning in places like China. The peak year of fossil fuel burning and the year at which net negative carbon emissions occur are very important factors in determining future warming. And even the best case emissions scenarios will likely lead to 2 C or greater warming this Century. Impacts from 2 C warming will be very difficult to manage with a high likelihood that at least some widespread catastrophic impacts would occur. 3 C warming would be terrible — with very widespread harm and disruption. And it is unlikely that most nations would survive the impacts related to 4 to 6 C warming. Image source: University of East Anglia.)

This year, we see a bit of backsliding by this key energy and climate player due to a combined reduction in hydro based power supply and strong annual rates of economic growth.

Drought afflicting China has hit hydro-electrical power generation pretty hard. China presently possesses about 320 gigawatts of hydro power generation capacity. This is about 1/3 of its total coal generating capacity and compares to a relatively smaller wind and solar capacity of around 150 gigawatts. So any disruption to water flowing into hydro generators can have a big effect on coal use and related downstream carbon emissions.

China also rapidly added solar this year. But it was apparently not enough to offset the impact to hydro resources which increased demand for coal. In addition, China’s rapid projected growth rate of 6.8 percent in GDP also resulted in higher overall power demand — leading to more coal burning. Overall, China’s carbon emissions grew by 3.5 percent or around 350 million tons per year. This increase is well ahead of overall global carbon emissions growth in the range of 2 percent for 2017.

U.S. and E.U. Emissions Drop; India and Rest of World Sees Rise

Other factors included a slowing of U.S. carbon emissions reduction due to a degradation of helpful climate policies by the Trump Administration. Despite this deterioration, U.S. emissions fell by 0.4 percent or around 21 million tons per year. The European Union also saw continued if slow emissions reductions of around 7 million tons per year. Environmentalists have criticized mixed policies in places like Germany that continue to protect high-carbon coal burning. But the picture for the EU has, overall, been one of slow if steady progress. India-based emissions increased by a slower than expected rate of 50 million tons per year. Another somewhat disturbing feature in the new data shows that the rest of the world saw carbon emissions grow by 2.3 percent or about 305 million tons per year.

(Most energy and climate experts did not expect to see a potential peak in global carbon emissions until at least the early 2020s. However, 2013 to 2016’s plateau did provide a hopeful look at what was possible. In order to see an actual peak, the countries of the world will have to be far more aggressive about shutting down fossil fuel based energy sources and rapidly deploying renewables. Image source: The University of East Anglia.)

So even without the big bump in China’s emissions, the world, as a whole would have experienced some CO2 emissions growth. But this single country accounted for almost half of all carbon emissions growth around the world during 2017. And it is worth noting that even a relatively minor reduction in carbon emissions by China this year would have resulted in an extension of the global carbon emission plateau.

A Problem Caused by Fossil Fuel Burning

Where the problem of increasing carbon emissions is coming from is pretty obvious. According to reports, 41 billion tons of CO2 were emitted to the atmosphere during 2017 due to human activities. Of this amount, almost 90 percent came from fossil fuel burning — accounting for 36.8 billion tons of CO2 each year. This overall rate of emission is more than ten times faster than during the last hothouse extinction event to occur on Earth.

(Annual rates of atmospheric CO2 accumulation are now higher than 2 parts per million per year. The last time atmospheric CO2 levels were as high as they are now — around 407 parts per million — the oceans were between 25 and 75 feet higher than they are today. Image source: The University of East Anglia.)

The present increase is problematic in that it also makes it less likely that warming this Century will be limited to 1.5 or 2 C. The scientific community has often identified these as safer limits for warming. But we should be clear that no level of warming is entirely safe. That present warming in the range of 1.1 to 1.2 C above preindustrial levels is already causing harmful impacts like shifting climate zones, more instances of damaging, extreme weather, worsening wildfires, and ramping rates of sea level rise that are threatening islands and coastal cities. We should also be clear that present atmospheric greenhouse gas levels in the range of 407 ppm CO2 and 491 ppm CO2e imply a warming close to or above the 1.5 to 2 C threshold range by the end of this Century even if these levels were to merely remain stable.

An Increasingly Urgent Situation — But the Means of Lessening the Damage is at our Disposal

The urgency of the situation, therefore, cannot be understated. We are presently living in a time during which the safety of global civilization requires that we rapidly reduce to zero presently unprecedented annual levels of greenhouse gas emissions. And the first step to doing this is a swift as possible cessation of fossil fuel burning enabled by a transition to renewable energy.

It is worth noting that 2017’s rate of carbon emissions growth was less than the 3 percent annual rates experienced during the decade of the 2000s. Back then, less well developed renewable energy technology and very rapid economic growth in places like China resulted in far higher annual emissions gains than we see at present. So 2017’s gain may be a blip due to circumstances as combined wind, solar, and electrical vehicle advances begin to take hold of the larger energy and emissions trend. That said, challenges to rates of renewable energy adoption and related rates of carbon emissions reduction coming from right-wing governments like the Trump Administration should not be discounted. Failure to act by leaders in the U.S. and around the world or attempts to return to increasing rates of coal, oil, and gas burning are measures that will result in serious harm going forward.

We are thus at a moment of crisis when it comes to global emissions. We can continue to move forward on replacing fossil fuels with zero emitting energy sources. Or we can return to the very harmful increases in global carbon emissions of the past — at which point the damages we see from climate change will be rapidly enhanced.


World’s Carbon Emissions Spike by 2 Percent in 2017

The Global Carbon Budget

Warning Signs For Stabilizing CO2 Emissions

Leave a comment


    • coloradobob

       /  November 15, 2017

      Don’t read the comments on these threads, the scientists are all lazy unemployed left wing bums.

      Which asks the question , what does a a hard working right wing fully employed scientist think ?

      Tick, tick. tick .

      • redskylite

         /  November 15, 2017

        I suspect some of the comments & remarks are from both fossil fuel interest groups and overseas professionals, who are trying to manipulate the minds of the general public. Unfortunately it seems to have worked on some issues. Are we really that dumb ?

    • A pretty stark report. Amazing to me how many of these issues could be solved by activities that address climate change.

    • Hah. I hit a paywall. Must have already hit my monthly limit.

      Per your comment below, it’s pretty clear what happens when you have zero emissions standards. You end up living in a toxic environment. Add in global warming and the situation is dramatically worse.

  1. coloradobob

     /  November 15, 2017

    How little we remember , what the clean water act did. what the clean air act did.

    Now we can go back to the tine when our rivers were on fire . And all in the name of profits. Because if the poorest among us must drink lead in their drinking water. So be it. Because money , and only money is the measure of America now.

    • Jim

       /  November 15, 2017


      You are so correct. The narcissistic greedy bastards that rise to positions of power are more than happy to trade our lives, and the lives of our brothers and sisters if it puts an extra few bucks in their pocket. They worship their true god, Money. It’s unregulated, unfettered capitalism run amok and it serves the interests of the few, not the many.

      Whenever someone suggests pollution regulation is not worth it, I ask them what benefit the Clean Air Act of the 1970’s produced. I’ve never come across someone who knew, but the estimates are out there. In my home city of Phoenix, it’s an extra 3.9 years lifespan. In Weirton, West Virginia it’s over 5 years. Reference the link below.

      Let’s watch out for each other, and put the common good above the interests of the few, so we have a decent shot at maintaining a habitable planet.

      • How valuable to you is five more years of living on this planet? How precious is that?

        A rhetorical question for sure. But just an example of the great wealth that is lost when society succumbs to greed.

  2. redskylite

     /  November 15, 2017

    Fact: Climate change is exacerbating migration in Nigeria (and other parts of Africa).
    Fact: Slavery was made illegal in Libya in the mid 1950’s
    and yet in the 21st century, black people are being sold as utilities, just as they were when they were traded by the British in the 18th century.

    Surely with the United Nations, we can do better than this.


    what else is in our future ?

    “Not a used car, a piece of land, or an item of furniture. Not “merchandise” at all, but two human beings.
    One of the unidentified men being sold in the grainy cell phone video obtained by CNN is Nigerian. He appears to be in his twenties and is wearing a pale shirt and sweatpants.
    He has been offered up for sale as one of a group of “big strong boys for farm work,” according to the auctioneer, who remains off camera. Only his hand — resting proprietorially on the man’s shoulder — is visible in the brief clip.”

    • This is what happens when people look the other way, when morals and rules are not enforced, the bad actors swoop in and start exploiting people in all the worst ways. This is exploitation of people who’ve been made refugees. Some of them were made refugees by climate change enhanced extreme weather. And the vultures are settling in to capitalize as the world looks the other way.

  3. coloradobob

     /  November 15, 2017

    The Day The Univers Changed 1/56

  4. Erik Frederiksen

     /  November 15, 2017

    “Impacts from 2 C warming will be very difficult to manage”

    According to Eric Rignot one of the more important findings in the last decade from the paleoclimate record is the clear indication that raising global temperature by just 1.5-2 degrees C over preindustrial temperature commits the system to 6-9m of sea level rise.

    From a recent paper: “The current risk category of dangerous warming is extended to more categories, which are defined by us here as follows: >1.5 °C as dangerous; >3 °C as catastrophic; and >5 °C as unknown, implying beyond catastrophic, including existential threats.”

    • If we don’t hit net negative carbon emissions, we’re looking at worse over the long term. Present CO2 at 407 ppm implies 3 C warming long term. If present CO2e levels remain at 491 ppm long term, you’re looking at 4 C or more long term warming. The 2 C number of this Century is bad enough. But you need to get to net negative carbon emissions to avoid worse.

    • NASA showing stunning images of recent large ice berg:

  5. coloradobob

     /  November 15, 2017

    James Burke Connections³, Episode 1 Feedback

  6. coloradobob

     /  November 15, 2017

    James Burke, Connections², Episode 2 Sentimental Journeys

  7. Vic

     /  November 15, 2017

    The most recent set of economic indicators show a significant slow down in China’s economic activity compared to the previous month of September.

    While steel production expanded in October, production of electricity, cement and glass all slowed, as did the manufacture of consumer staples such as cars and mobile phones.

    In the real estate sector, net area of floor space ‘starts’ declined 4.4 per cent in October, after only a moderate rise in September.

    • Interesting. Perhaps we’ll see less growth in China’s carbon emissions than expected.

      • Mblanc

         /  November 15, 2017

        I must admit I thought we had probably peaked. Thanks for explaining this unwelcome finding, and let’s hope the uncertainty works in our favour this time.

  8. Vaughn Anderson

     /  November 15, 2017

    “Six Degrees Could Change the World” from 2007 is still worth a watch. Some of the Ideas are a little outdated so maybe watch it with a grain of salt. I think it is still worth a watch because it presents visuals of the havoc that one to six degrees C of warming causes in one degree C intervals.

  9. Genomik

     /  November 15, 2017

    This was big news today.
    “GE and Siemens: power pioneers flying too far from the sun.
    The two industrial titans are struggling to cope with the disruption to their business models from wind and solar”

    • Saw this earlier. Both are heavily invested in the fossil fuel side. They’re suffering for it. Gas companies are next. Then oil companies and FF automakers.

  10. Genomik

     /  November 15, 2017

    Trying to make sense of whats happening in Saudi Arabia is highly relevant to the price of oil and by extension, innovation in alternative energy. As we have seen the new leader of the Saudis seems to be really wanting to fight with Iran by having a proxy war in Yemen, Syria and now accusing Iran of attacking Saudi Arabia itself.

    It’s sort of ironic the country that seems to have received trump better than any other is Saudi Arabia where he went and touched swords right after the election. So trump seems to be allying us with the Saudis against Iran. So if the Saudis start a war with Iran it will be with American weapons and likely support of trump. I think Israel might be allying slightly with the Saudis against Iran (and Russia and China) trying to get the Saudis and America to do their dirty work for them. I feel Iran would make a better ally than the Saudis who spread Whahabbi Islam like a mad and it spawns ISIS etc. It seems trump has no strategy here apart from who massages his sword as the Saudis have.

    This might make oil prices spike which could be good for alternative energy as one of the drivers for the Saudis to lower oil prices was to thwart alternative energy (another was to bankrupt Iran). If a real war happens between Iran and Saudis oil could easily double or triple i venture. Of course it could also start WW3 as well.

    Time will tell what happens here, the middle East is perpetually volatile but recent events are important.

    • Saudi is in a tough spot if it keeps ties with oil-based economies. Time is running out for a rational switch. Pursuing regional wars will only waste time and resources.

  11. Abel Adamski

     /  November 15, 2017

    Marches are godd, but even better to be in the Government

    PhD volcanologist Jesse Phoenix is running against climate denier Steve Knight in California.

    • Nice! We definitely need more scientists in office. Also, we’re presently electing a boatload of women. I think this is a good thing. The blue wave is pretty widely represented.

  12. Vic

     /  November 15, 2017

    Global mining giant BHP has engaged US-based renewable energy think tank, the Rocky Mountain Institute to analyse the possibilities of utilising its disused mine sites, tailings dams and open pits as renewable energy generation and storage hubs. RMI’s study identified more than half a gigawatt of opportunities for BHP in the US alone.

    RMI : “…innovative renewable energy and storage solutions can establish a sustainable revenue stream, transforming legacy sites from liabilities into assets.”

    “I think if we look back in a few years we would call 2017 the tipping point of electric vehicles,” Arnoud Balhuizen, head of marketing at BHP, said at a Reuters event held in Singapore three weeks ago.

    “BHP recently revealed plans to transform itself into the world’s biggest suppliers of nickel sulphate — a key component in lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars.

    The company forecasts the looming electric vehicle boom will be evident first in the copper market, with supply struggling to meet increased demand due to hardly any new discoveries in the last two decades.

    BHP, already the world’s second-biggest listed copper miner, has been taking steps towards increasing its presence in the market as of late. In July, the company said it would spend $2.5 billion to extend the life of its Spence mine in northern Chile by more than 50 years.

    That announcement followed the mining giant’s decision last year of raising its annual exploration spending by 29%, allocating nearly all its $900 million budget to finding new copper deposits…”.

  13. Greg

     /  November 15, 2017

    Premature emaculation? Californis shows how to cut carbon — zero emission renewables may reach 50% by 2020, 10 years ahead of 2030 goal. Via Peter Sinclair:

  14. utoutback

     /  November 15, 2017

    Insurance firms are divesting from fossil fuels.
    “It’s not about politics or blame. It about using the immense amounts of data and analytics we have from internal engineers as well as external scientific experts, to guide our view of the future”, said …. the global head of property and investment.

  15. Andy_in_SD

     /  November 15, 2017

    These folks are in a pickle.

    • Unfortunately won’t be around for too much longer… We are going to lose some of these lands. How much depends on how much we burn. A remote island can pretty soon become a hundred middle to large sized towns and cities.

  16. Suzanne

     /  November 15, 2017

    Just saw this ….”General Motors: GM CEO promises profitable electric vehicles by 20121″

    General Motors Co plans to launch a new family of electric vehicles in 2021 with batteries costing about 30 percent less than those used on the current Chevrolet Bolt, Chief Executive Mary Barra told investors on Wednesday.
    The No. 1 U.S. automaker is developing an all-new electric vehicle platform that will accommodate multiple sizes and segments, to be sold by different GM brands in the United States and China, Barra said, adding new details to what was known about GM’s aggressive electrification strategy.

    “We are committed to a future electric vehicle portfolio that will be profitable,” Barra said at the Barclays Global Automotive Conference in New York.

    • Brain = shared.

      Also — BYD is starting to move into North America with new EV trucks. U.S. automakers need to get their game on with EVs. Otherwise lunch = eaten.

  17. utoutback

     /  November 15, 2017

    A note on Comments:
    I read a variety of blogs and news outlets and find the comments sections sometimes interesting, sometimes amusing and occasionally infuriating. Here’s a list of various commenters:
    1. Interested individuals who, having read the piece, leave a well thought out statement of opinion.
    2. Individuals who had an opinion before reading the piece and want to make it known that they are RIGHT, irregardless of what the article states.
    3. Knowledgeable individuals who actually have information to add to the discussion or an enlightening comment to add whether it agrees with the article’s premise or not. (These submissions are appreciated for their additional information.)
    4. People who are mildly narcissistic and like to see their posts in print – receiving the associated dopamine jolt, irregardless of the appropriateness of the comment.
    5. Provocateurs who will say outrageous or contrary things to see if they can trigger conflict. Trolls! (One of the things I like about the Washington Post is the “ignore” choice on a comment – which keeps them from showing up in my thread.)
    6. People who also enjoy conflict and just can’t help responding to Trolls.
    7. Ignorant people who are sure they have a better assessment of reality.
    8. Ideologues who will spread disinformation in order to support a particular ideology.
    9. Paid provocateurs or bots. (We all know they are out there – UGH!)
    10. Members of the blog’s or outlet’s community who will occasionally lighten the intensity or provide an entertaining interlude with a peripheral or off topic post (video/music, etc.). Oh what a relief it is! (This one’s for you CB)
    I am so very appreciative of Robert’s careful mediation of this site’s comment section. Probably the best on the web. Thanks.

    • Jim

       /  November 15, 2017

      +1000. Thanks for the site Robert. Unique for sure ! It truly is nice to be able to engage in dialog with people who actually want to learn, and help create a better world. It’s a nice community you’re created here.

    • Jim

       /  November 15, 2017

      Interesting data for those trying to modify climate deniers views. Article says partisan messaging “trumps” (sorry) access to science data among better educated Republicans.

      It’s a tough problem, but what would make the Republican party switch sides? More clean energy lobbying than oil lobbying? Large renewable projects going to states who’s federal elected officials acknowledge the risks posed by climate change? Pressure from the military?

      ” A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” – Paul Simon

      • What should be truly dismaying are the number of people from both sides that fail to realize the gravity of Earth’s deteriorating condition. They seem to think they don’t need to change on a personal level not to mention the US government’s destructive members that won’t even acknowledge the growing crisis.

  18. Robert McLachlan

     /  November 15, 2017

    On cars, this shows what is possible – this is for the entire existing fleet, not just new vehicles
    US light fleet emissions: 257g/km (10.9L/100km)

    UK car fleet emissions: 147g/km (6.2L/100km)

    Norway car fleet emissions: 79g/km (3.3L/100km)

    On electricity, US CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have fallen about 10% from their peak 10 years ago. Most of it is due to replacing coal with gas, but I think as of 2016 2.5% is due to wind + solar. (They provided 7% of US electricity in 2016, and electricity is 35% of CO2 emissions). They could easily reach 25% of electricity within 10 years, which would cut another 6% off the total. Not good enough, but a good start.

    • PlazaRed

       /  November 16, 2017

      I was sitting in a car on a BC Vancouver, Canada ferry a few weeks ago.
      There was a what they call a “pick up truck” next to me, it had a sign on the side of the front wing or fender as they call them, it said “V10, 7 liter.”
      I cant remember what make it was but the Dodge pick ups seem to be called Ram and most oft them seem to be 5.9 liters.
      I asked the owner, a dense looking overweight type with a cowboy hat on, ” how old the truck was? He said about 3 years,”
      There was no sign of any marks or scratches on the inside of the loading bay, I commented on this!
      The fake cowboy type said he did not move things in the truck, it was just used to run about in for general errands.
      Sort of sums it up.
      A European pick up truck of about this size uses about a 2.5 liter engine!

      I could go on ! but is there any point?

      Massive drought here in Spain right now and no rain forecast, its all over Greece, the driest year this century in Spain so far.
      Big problems coming here but they seem to be getting played down, probably for some obscure political reason, or to help with lining a few pockets of the already rich.
      I’m keeping an eye on things.
      I passed an area in Almeria, Southern Spain last week where probably over 95% of the fruit trees were dead, they were full grown trees; they did not grow to that size dead, they have died recently, probably the last 3 years due to water shortages.
      Sorry I missed the article on the Spanish drought mainly in the south but spreading, believe me! I was in the Almeria desert with no Internet and very little else that works for a while.


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