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Greenhouse gas emissions soar – with China, US and India most at fault

<span>Photograph: David Goldman/AP</span>
Photograph: David Goldman/AP

Electricity generation in China and India, and oil and gas production in the US, have produced the biggest increases in global greenhouse gas emissions since 2015, when the Paris climate agreement was signed, new data has shown.

Emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, have also risen, despite more than 100 countries signing up to a pledge to reduce the gas, according to data published on Sunday by the Climate Trace project.

The data shows that countries and companies are failing to report their emissions accurately, despite obligations to do so under the Paris agreement. More than 190 countries have been meeting in Dubai since Thursday in an attempt to put the world on track to meet the Paris goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

At the core of the Cop28 UN climate summit in Dubai is a process known as the “global stocktake” – an assessment of progress towards meeting the emissions cuts needed to stay within the 1.5C limit. Many countries, however, have failed to make updates.

Al Gore of the Climate Trace initiative
Al Gore of the Climate Trace initiative: ‘We can break down exactly where emissions are coming from, facility by facility.’ Photograph: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

Al Gore, a founder of the Climate Trace initiative, said: “Climate Trace is filling a vacuum that is presently virtually devoid of accurate information. We can break down exactly where emissions are coming from, facility by facility. If the problem is greenhouse gas emissions, it only makes sense to find out where they’re coming from.”

He said the UN was able to use the data, as were companies seeking to make accurate reports of their own emissions. Climate Trace uses satellite images and AI software to pinpoint the sources of emissions with a high degree of accuracy around the world, and has uncovered discrepancies between countries’ and companies’ reporting of emissions and their actual behaviour.

The new data showed coal mines from China were responsible for a large proportion of the increase in methane emissions between 2021 and 2022. China has signed a new pledge to include methane in its national climate plans for the first time, and is collaborating with the US on ways to reduce methane.

Scientists say sharp cuts to methane are the best chance of staving off the worst impacts of global heating in the short term. According to estimates, cuts to methane and other short-lived pollutants could reduce global temperature increases by as much as 0.3C.

Environmental activists at Cop28
Environmental activists at Cop28. Photograph: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, hailed cooperation on methane at the Cop28 summit. “[This] may just make it possible to keep 1.5C alive,” he said. “Methane is the blowtorch that is boiling the planet. Turn it off, and you immediately turn down the heat.”

Flaring of methane from oil and gas production was also “a significant and wide-ranging source of emissions”, the Climate Trace project found. Cracking down on flaring would offer a quick way to make substantial cuts in methane.

More than 50 oil and gas companies at Cop28 signed up to a “decarbonisation accelerator” by which they will reduce the climate impact of their operations, though they have not pledged to reduce their output. Climate campaigners said the deal did not go far enough, and its voluntary nature meant it would be difficult to hold the companies to account.

Participants in traditional outfits at COP28
Participants in traditional outfits at COP28. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

David Tong, global industry campaign manager at pressure group Oil Change International, said: “[The global decarbonisation accelerator] is a dangerous distraction from Cop28. We need legal agreements not voluntary pledges. The science is clear: staying under 1.5C global warming requires a full, fast, fair and funded phase-out of fossil fuels, starting now.”

Climate Trace data also revealed that emissions from aviation have bounced back strongly since the Covid lockdowns: carbon from international flights rose by 74% between 2021 and 2022, and from domestic flights by 18% over the same period. Road transport emissions also increased, by 3.5% – probably a result of the rise in SUV sales.

There was also good news. Deforestation is dropping in key regions, with emissions from the degradation and destruction of forests in the Congo Basin dropping by up to 19% in 2022, compared with the previous year.

Gavin McCormick, a co-founder of Climate Trace and executive director of environmental nonprofit WattTime, said: “By harnessing the power of AI and machine learning paired with the right data from satellites and beyond, our models are giving us a picture of the world we’ve never seen before. And it’s allowing us to make climate progress in a way some never believed possible.”

Cop28: Can fossil fuel companies transition to clean energy?
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