Two years after nearly every nation on earth signed the landmark Paris climate accord, researchers say the deal is failing to live up to its mission as China drives a spike in global carbon emissions, reversing years of steady decline.
The sobering news comes as world leaders gather in Germany for a high-level climate summit designed to marshal support for the Paris agreement and to encourage countries to make even more ambitious commitments to cut their own pollution.
Other nations have been critical of President Trump for announcing over the summer that the U.S. would pull out of the deal, but data released Monday show that American emissions are still dropping while those of China and other countries are back on the rise.
Several studies released by the Global Carbon Project say worldwide carbon emissions are projected to jump about 2 percent this year after staying flat for three years, according to preliminary estimates.
The culprit, the data show, is China, which has kept its emissions in check in recent years but now shows a massive rise in pollution. Under the Paris pact, China agreed to cap its emissions by 2030, meaning it is still free to increase pollution.
China’s uptick this year, after a 1 percent drop in 2015 and flat emissions last year, is largely a result of the country’s increased use of fossil fuels.
More broadly, researchers say, the data show the Paris agreement is not working as intended.
“Global commitments made in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions are still not being matched by actions,” said Glen Peters, a research director at Cicero’s Center for International Climate Research.
“It is far too early to proclaim that we have turned a corner and started the journey toward zero emissions. While emissions may rise 2 percent in 2017, it is not possible to say whether this is a return to growth or a one-off increase,” said Mr. Peters, who led one of the reports that was included in the sweeping Global Carbon Project study.
Chinese emissions are projected to rise by 3.5 percent this year, according to the study. China is the world’s largest polluter and accounts for nearly 30 percent of all worldwide carbon emissions.
India’s emissions also are expected to rise by 2 percent, though that is a much smaller increase than in recent years.
U.S. emissions, by contrast, are projected to decline by 0.4 percent this year. That is less of a decline than in recent years, research shows, but still underscores that technological advancements and a market shift away from coal in America are having tangible effects.
European emissions also are expected to decline slightly this year.
The news doesn’t necessarily mean China is falling short of its promises because the nation has to do virtually nothing before 2030. But it’s still a troubling sign that highlights long-standing complaints about the climate accord, mainly that it penalizes the U.S. in the short term and allows China to keep polluting.
The Paris deal required the U.S. to cut its emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025 when compared with 2005 levels. Mr. Trump shelved that commitment in June, saying the agreement was unfair to the U.S. and let other major polluters — specifically China and India — off the hook.
The data released Monday appear to back up his contention.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has become something of an international pariah at the Germany summit even though its emissions remain on a downward trajectory.
U.S. officials on Monday held an event focused on cleaner fossil fuels and nuclear power, and how those traditional power sources can help mitigate damage to the climate.
But the forum reportedly was interrupted by dozens of protesters who chanted, “You claim to be an American, but we see right through your greed.”
David Banks, a special assistant to Mr. Trump on environmental issues, said the event could be considered controversial only “if we choose to bury our heads in the sand” about the need for clean fossil fuels, Reuters reported.
Nevertheless, environmentalists largely ignored the findings that U.S. emissions are headed down while China is fueling a worldwide increase. Instead, they hammered the administration for even bringing up the notion of continued fossil fuel use.
“Nothing could encapsulate the extreme tone-deafness and isolation of this administration more than an event to celebrate fossil fuels during this important global climate meeting,” said John Coequyt, global climate policy director at the Sierra Club, one of the world’s leading environmental groups.
As for emissions, researchers suggest the data show that the reality of controlling pollution is far different from the promises any country makes under the Paris accord. For example, China’s economic growth this year has fueled the need for more energy, and the country is relying on fossil fuels to meet that need despite its promises under Paris.
Emissions increases could continue in the coming years without aggressive action, analysts said.
“The slowdown in emissions growth from 2014 to 2016 was always a delicate balance, and the likely 2 percent increase in 2017 clearly demonstrates that we can’t take the recent slowdown for granted,” said Robbie Andrew, a senior researcher at Cicero who also co-authored the studies.
Highlights of the report can be found here.
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