Growth in atmospheric CO2 concentration despite almost no growth in emission


The global CO2 emissions growth from fossil fuels and industry in 2016 is nearly flat for a third year in a row. In spite of this fact, the growth in atmospheric CO2 concentration was at a record-high in 2015 and could be at a record high again in 2016. Reason is a smaller uptake of carbon in the terrestrial biosphere.

The CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry are projected to be around 36.4 Gt (gigatons) this year, according to a study by the Global Carbon Project (GCP). They were at 36.3 Gt CO2 in 2015 and at 36.2 Gt CO2 in 2014. But GCP Scientific Steering Committee member Sabine Fuss from the MercatorResearch Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) warns: “The lower growth in emissions is not aligned with the pathways that limit climate change below two degrees Celsius.”

German emissions did not decrease in 2015 but increased slightly by 0.7 %. A similar picture emerges at EU level. The 28 member states created a rise of 1.4 % from 2014 to 2015. To achieve a climate change below two degrees Celsius political changes are needed.

The cause of the global growth in atmospheric CO2 concentration is a smaller uptake of carbon in the terrestrial biosphere in response to warm and dry conditions over tropical land. In 2015, the land sink was smaller than usual at 7 Gt CO2 per year, only 60 % of its average intensity during the previous decade. “What we see here is the response of land ecosystems to large interannual climate variability”, explains Sönke Zaehle from the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany. He continues, “on average, the land biosphere takes up carbon and slows the growth rate of atmospheric CO2, and will probably continue to do so for the next years. However, years like 2015 with a strong El Niño event should remind us that climatic swings with warmer temperatures and more droughts have a strong effect on the land carbon storage.”

Philipp Kronsbein / MCC /
Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

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