CO2 Emissions Rose for the First Time in 4 Years

Meeting the goals set in the 2015 Paris Accord is arguably impossible, according to data from a new UN report.

Human emissions of carbon dioxide have gone up for the first time since 2013, according to the UN’s ninth annual Emissions Gap Report, meaning the world isn’t on track to mitigate the worst of climate change’s already disastrous effects.

The report, published on Tuesday, says that while carbon emissions stayed relatively level between 2014 and 2016, carbon emissions in 2017 went up by 1.2 percent.


Composed by climate scientists using the most up-to-date scientific data, the report aims to determine whether we’re on track to meet the goals set by international climate agreements, such as the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. The “emissions gap” is the difference between how low our emissions need to be, and where they actually are.

The UN report concludes that the world isn’t hitting the emissions targets necessary to curb warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. While the goal is not impossible, it’s unlikely to be met under current political conditions, which have rendered us unable to take significant action against climate change for more than half a century.

“According to the current policy and [Nationally Determined Contributions] scenarios, global emissions are not estimated to peak by 2030, let alone by 2020,” the report reads. “As the emissions gap assessment shows, this original level of ambition needs to be roughly tripled for the 2°C scenario and increased around fivefold for the 1.5°C scenario.”

According to the Emission Gap Report, it’s unclear whether carbon emissions were level between 2014 and 2016 due to countries taking action on their international promises to curb carbon emissions, or whether short-term socioeconomic conditions brought about those conditions haphazardly.

A report by the UN World Meteorological Organization released last week said that greenhouse gas levels (including carbon dioxide) have hit a record high. The last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere, according to the organization, was 3-5 million years ago. At that time, the world was 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 10-20 meters higher—conditions which today would be disastrous for humanity.

Greenhouse gas emissions per country since 1970.

Image: Screenshot from United Nations Emissions Gap Report taken by Caroline Haskins.

This December, world leaders will assemble in Poland to negotiate actions that could mitigate the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, this year’s Camp Fire in Northern California—exacerbated by climate change—has killed at least 88 people and created thousands of migrants.

The UN released a report in October that said that we would have to fundamentally restructure our systems of production and political power in order to take the action necessary to meet the goals set in the climate accord. Even that report was too optimistic.