Carbon dioxide emissions will hit a record high globally in 2018 | Science News for Students

Carbon dioxide emissions will hit a record high globally in 2018

Releases due to fossil-fuel use rose 2.7 percent, the latest tally shows
Dec 12, 2018 — 12:00 pm EST
Cars in traffic

Most cars and trucks burn fossil fuels, which produce carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change.


Global carbon-dioxide emissions are expected to hit a record high in 2018. This is despite urgent calls for countries to cut back. Those calls have come from climate scientists, international groups such as the United Nations — and kids and teens.

Worldwide, fossil-fuel use is projected to pump 2.7 percent more CO2 into the air this year than in 2017. Last year, such emissions totaled some 9.9 billion metric tons (gigatons). Emissions rose slowly from 2014 to 2016. That has now changed. This year marks the second in a row where CO2 levels have risen a lot. Such emissions fuel global warming and climate change.

The new data come from a report called the Global Carbon Budget. It was published online December 5 in Earth System Science Data. (The report uses data through early November to predict emissions for the whole year.)

News of the 2018 increase comes on the heels of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Scientists put this big report together for the U.S. government. The report projects dire impacts in the United States if it doesn’t cut back its CO2 emissions. That’s because CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Such gases act like a blanket around the planet, trapping the sun’s heat close to the surface. The more CO2 that’s emitted, the more heat that gets trapped.

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graphs showing trends in carbon-dioxide emissions by country and per person
These graphs show trends in carbon-dioxide emissions by country and per person. China and India have seen recent large boosts from fossil-fuel use; 2018 continues that trend (left). But on a per-person level, the United States continues to rank well above other countries in CO2 releases each year (right).

On a per-person basis, the United States is the world’s largest CO2 emitter. It released 4.4 metric tons per person in 2017. In comparison, people in Europe average only about half that much. Total U.S. CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use grew 2.5 percent in 2018. That is even as the United States has been using more renewable sources of energy than ever. Renewables, such as wind and solar power, don’t emit greenhouse gases.

Overall, India will see the biggest bump up in CO2 releases from fossil-fuel use this year. It’s spewed 6.3 percent more than in 2017. Part of the reason is a rapid growth in its industries. Bringing electricity to more rural people in India also has boosted its emissions. Per person, though, India’s emissions are lower than the global average.

Overall, China is the largest CO2 emitter. Its releases climbed 4.7 percent in 2018. Both India and China are making attempts to shift away from use of coal, a fossil fuel.

The European Union actually cut its CO2 releases in 2018 — by 0.7 percent. That’s due in part to its growing switch to renewable sources of energy.

Power Words

(more about Power Words)

atmosphere     The envelope of gases surrounding Earth or another planet.

average     (in science) A term for the arithmetic mean, which is the sum of a group of numbers that is then divided by the size of the group.

carbon dioxide (or CO2)     A colorless, odorless gas produced by all animals when the oxygen they inhale reacts with the carbon-rich foods that they’ve eaten. Carbon dioxide also is released when organic matter burns (including fossil fuels like oil or gas). Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, the process they use to make their own food.

climate     The weather conditions that typically exist in one area, in general, or over a long period.

climate change     Long-term, significant change in the climate of Earth. It can happen naturally or in response to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests.

dire     An adjective that means grave, or hard to survive.

European Union     The confederation of 28 European countries that have agreed to work peacefully together. Residents of EU can move freely between its member countries and sell goods to them. Most members have also adopted the same currency, known as the Euro.

fossil fuel     Any fuel — such as coal, petroleum (crude oil) or natural gas — that has developed within the Earth over millions of years from the decayed remains of bacteria, plants or animals.

giga     A prefix for units of measurement meaning billion in the international metric system.

global warming     The gradual increase in the overall temperature of Earth’s atmosphere due to the greenhouse effect. This effect is caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons and other gases in the air, many of them released by human activity.

greenhouse gas     A gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing heat. Carbon dioxide is one example of a greenhouse gas.

online     (n.) On the internet. (adj.) A term for what can be found or accessed on the internet.

renewable energy     Energy from a source that is not depleted by use, such as hydropower (water), wind power or solar power.


Journal:​ Corinne Le Quéré et al. Global Carbon Budget 2018. Earth System Science Data. Published online December 5, 2018. doi:10.5194/essd-10-2141-2018.