COP28: Fossil fuel CO2 emissions to hit record high in 2023

As world leaders meet at the UN climate summit, a new report shows that carbon emissions are set to hit a record high, with the potential to make climate change worse and fuel more extreme weather

As COP28 continues in Dubai, researchers predict record high levels of carbon emissions this year. (photo: DW)
As COP28 continues in Dubai, researchers predict record high levels of carbon emissions this year. (photo: DW)


Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas are expected to hit a record high in 2023, according to a report released on Tuesday, 5 December.

The Global Carbon Budget report, published by scientists from more than 90 institutions around the world, said total global CO2 emissions are set to hit 36.8 billion metric tons in 2023 — a 1.1% increase on 2022.

Chiefly responsible for the increase, according to the report, are India and China.

The rise in India is a result of power demand growing faster than its renewable energy capacity, leaving fossil fuels to make up the shortfall. In China, fossil fuel emissions have risen dramatically since the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

"The effects of climate change are obvious all around us, but efforts to reduce carbon emissions through the burning of fossil fuels remain painfully slow," said Professor Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who led the research.

"It now looks inevitable we will overshoot the 1.5 C target of the Paris Agreement," he added, referring to the attempt to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

COP28 in Dubai: Calls for fossil fuel phase-out

The publication of the Global Carbon Budget report comes as government representatives and industry leaders gather at COP28, the United Nations climate change conference being hosted this year in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"Leaders meeting at COP28 will have to agree rapid cuts in fossil fuel emissions even to keep the 2C target alive," said Professor Friedlingstein.

According to a draft negotiating text seen by the Reuters news agency on Tuesday, some participating countries at the climate conference are considering calling for a formal phase-out of fossil fuels as part of the summit's final deal to fight global warming.

But major oil and gas producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, have historically resisted such proposals. Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told Bloomberg TV that his country would "absolutely not" agree to a deal that calls for a phase-down of fossil fuels.

A second option listed in the draft calls for "accelerating efforts toward phasing out unabated fossil fuels," while a third option would be to avoid mentioning a fossil fuel phase-out altogether.

"We're not talking about turning the tap off overnight," German Climate Envoy Jennifer Morgan said. "What you're seeing here is a real battle about what energy system of the future we are going to build together."

How likely is a meaningful deal?

On the COP28 main stage, the chief executives of several major energy firms argued in favor of oil and gas, and sought to highlight their climate-friendly credentials such as cutting emissions of the greenhouse gas methane.

"We are big guys and we can do big things. We can deliver results and we will have to report them very soon," said Jean Paul Prates, CEO of Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras.

TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne said: "We need absolutely to produce oil and gas in a different way by slashing emissions. And we can do it, we have the technology." But he said it would take a long time.

David Waskow, director of World Resources Institute's international climate initiative, said he did not think a COP28 outcome was possible without a clear mandate for moving away from the global reliance on oil, gas and coal.

"I don't think we're going to leave Dubai without some clear language and some clear direction on shifting away from fossil fuels," he said.

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Published: 06 Dec 2023, 12:25 PM