Carbon emissions from fossil fuels rise globally, including U.S., but drop in China

Steam rising from coal-fired power plant in Germany
Steam rises from the coal-fired power plant in Niederaussem, Germany, on Nov. 2.
(Michael Probst / Associated Press)

The world’s burning of coal, oil and natural gas this year is putting 1% more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air this year than last year, in a piece of bad news for the fight against climate change, according to scientists who track emissions.

But in an unexpected twist, China’s carbon pollution was down 0.9% this year compared with 2021, while emissions in the United States were 1.5% higher, said a study released Friday by the Global Carbon Project at the international climate conference underway in Egypt. Both those findings run counter to long-term trends: U.S. emissions had been steadily dropping while Chinese emissions had been rising.

In both cases, the reason lies in the response to the pandemic and, perhaps slightly, in the energy crisis created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, study lead author Pierre Friedlingstein of the University of Exeter, in southwestern England, told the Associated Press. He said those two factors make this year’s data chaotic and hard to draw trends from. China’s lockdown in 2022 to try to control renewed COVID-19 is a major factor in its drop in emissions, he said.


Much of the jump was in transportation — cars and air travel — with limits on travel during the pandemic being lifted, Friedlingstein said.

While global carbon pollution is still increasing, it isn’t increasing at as fast a rate as 10 or 15 years ago. But overall, scientists said this was bad news because it is pushing Earth closer to hitting and then passing the globally adopted threshold of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

“It means we better get ready to blow past the target and enter a world that humans have never experienced,’’ said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who wasn’t part of the research team.

Homes and businesses would receive lower payments for clean power they send to the grid — but not as low as under an earlier proposal.

Nov. 10, 2022

Friedlingstein’s team — along with other scientific reports — figure that Earth can put only 419 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air before warming reaches the 1.5-degree mark. That’s about nine to 10 years’ worth of emissions, meaning that the world will likely hit that point around 2031 or 2032.

“The time for 1.5 is running out,” Friedlingstein said.

“This is bad news,” said Brown University climate scientist Kim Cobb, who wasn’t part of the research team. “It’s hard to see any silver lining in rising emissions, when we must cut emissions in half by 2030 to keep global warming to an absolute minimum.”


In 2022, the world is on track to put 40.3 billion U.S. tons of carbon dioxide into the air from energy and cement use, the study calculated. That’s the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza in carbon dioxide spewed every 75 minutes.

In addition to the United States seeing emissions go up, India had a 6% increase in 2022, while Europe had a 0.8% drop. The rest of the world averaged a 1.7% carbon pollution jump.

Pollution from coal rose 1% from last year; for oil it went up 2%, and for natural gas it went down 0.2%, the report said. About 40% of the carbon dioxide comes from burning coal, 33% from oil and 22% from natural gas, Friedlingstein said.

The team calculates emissions levels through the early fall using data provided by top carbon-emitting countries, including the U.S., China and India, and then makes projections for the rest of year

Carbon emissions from fossil fuels plunged 5.3% in 2020 but rebounded 5.6% last year, spurred by China, and now have completely erased the pandemic drop and are back on a slowly rising trend, Friedlingstein said.

The team also looks at overall emissions, including the effects of land use. When land use is factored in, emissions are flat, not rising slightly, he said.