The global CO₂ peak does not reach the ceiling: when will emissions drop?

Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in 2025 to immediately begin their decline if the climate crisis is to be stopped. To do this, coal plants will have to be closed in this decade. Only in this way will we be able to contain the temperature increase well below 2 ºC. These were the main conclusions of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2021. Since then, energy organizations and consultancies have taken out the crystal ball to predict In what year will we reach peak CO₂ emissions?.

When will they go down? Predictions vary. The International Energy Agency points out that the ceiling of emissions derived from the burning of fossil fuels will reach the limit, in 2025. The Rystad Energy analysis team marks the same date on the calendar. Consulting firm McKinsey says last year may have been the peak. The last reliable prediction is that of the Climate Analytics institute, which in November published a report that raised the intriguing possibility that emissions will begin to decline in 2024 “if current growth trends in clean technologies continue.” This would make 2023 the year of maximum emissions. Would this mean that the worst of our impact on the climate could be behind us?

«I do not dare to predict precisely when we will reach peak emissions, despite the existing consensus that it is crucial for this to happen in the next decade. But the worst of our impact, no matter how much we have reached the peak, is not behind us,” says Joan Escuer, professor of geology at Carlemany University and CEO of an environmental consultancy. «The amounts of carbon dioxide that have been emitted and will continue to be emitted after the peak will continue to accumulate in an atmosphere already heavily loaded with greenhouse gases“, it states. “Whether we consider that we have reached the mission plateau or not, we cannot be satisfied and claim victory,” warns Escuer. “Significant and, above all, continued efforts are still required to obtain a permanent result,” he defends. “Reaching a plateau in emissions is just the first step.”

A first step that, for some, we will not take soon. «From the point of view of global emissions we are still far from the peak», argues Sergio Álvarez, an expert in carbon footprint and professor at the ETSI of Roads at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. “The latest work published by the Global Carbon Project shows that global emissions derived from fossil fuels increased by 1.1% in 2023, reaching 36.8 billion tons of CO₂, with increases in all types of fuel,” he indicates.

Carbon emissionsT. GallardoThe reason

“This raises emissions to a record level, 1.4% above the values ​​of 2019, before Covid-19,” he adds. «The only global peak reached is in emissions per capita and because, since 2012, they are growing at a slower rate than the population is growing. Therefore, my forecast for when we will reach the peak is pessimistic. It is necessary to analyze the proven, probable and possible reserves of fossil fuels, because on the demand side we still have decades of increase left,” concludes Álvarez.

Escuer indicates that “despite the temporary increase in the construction of coal-fired power plants, the long-term trend suggests that we are entering into the beginning of the end of fossil fuels». The story changes if we zoom in on the map. «The countries that are “holding back” the process continue to be led by the United States, where changes in the Administration have generated fluctuations in climate policy. “Russia,” he adds, “has shown a lack of ambitious commitments to reducing emissions and a continued dependence on gas and oil.”

CO2 emissions
CO2 emissionsT. GallardoThe reason

But, despite this, there is progress. “Although China is the largest emitter of CO₂, has committed to reaching the peak before 2030 and achieve neutrality by 2060. India and South Africa are countries that have surprised. Southern Africa has adopted a decarbonization plan », he lists. Geopolitics, says Escuer, will play “a crucial role in intensifying global efforts to reduce emissions once the peak is reached.” Thereafter, “it is essential that the global community maintains and increases its commitment, implementing effective strategies and adopting a comprehensive approach to reduce emissions and promote long-term sustainability.”