Even as policy makers and delegates from countries around the world are meeting for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 23) in Bonn, Germany, some bad news has surfaced. The latest projections for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for 2017 show an upward trend, reversing the near-flat growth seen the last three years.

The forecast by the Global Carbon Project (GCP), published Monday in a series of reports in three different journals, says 2017 will see a record 41 billion tons of CO2 emissions globally, an increase of 2 percent compared to 2016. The years from 2014 to 2016, by contrast, had seen little-to-no growth in CO2 emissions, making the 2017 projections particularly worrisome.

Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom, who was lead researcher for one of the reports, said in a statement Monday: "Global carbon dioxide emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three-year stable period. This is very disappointing. With global carbon dioxide emissions from all human activities estimated at 41 billion tons for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees Celsius."

In another statement, Robert Jackson of Stanford University, who co-chairs GCP, also warned of a rising trend in 2018: "Several factors point to a continued rise in 2018. That’s a real concern. The global economy is picking up slowly. As GDP rises, we produce more goods, which, by design, produces more emissions."

The increase being seen in 2017 is led by China, whose CO2 emissions are set to grow 3.5 percent through the year. This, Jackson said, was despite green energy sources becoming increasingly popular in China but still being insufficient to meet the burgeoning energy demand — a gap that has been filled by "new oil, coal and natural gas infrastructure."

CO2 emissions from the United States and the European Union are expected to fall by 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, but those declines are smaller than the average per year during the last 10 years. India’s emissions are expected to rise by 2 percent, which is much slower than the average 6 percent increase seen during the last decade.

Carbon Budget 2017 This is key data from the 2017 global carbon budget. Photo: Future Earth/Global Carbon Project

A lot of the emissions from specific countries are linked to their economic activity, and therefore, an uptick in countries’ gross domestic product growth could lead to a spurt in their CO2 emissions too. This was seen in 101 countries, where emissions grew in line with economic growth. However, 22 countries are expected to have reduced their emissions despite economic growth

Carbon emissions from fossil fuels still account for an overwhelming chunk of total emissions — 37 of the total 41 million tons. Energy from renewable sources has shown a rapid growth of 14 percent every year for the last five years, but that is off a low starting base, according to a statement by Future Earth, a research initiative that partially sponsors GCP.

But for the policymakers meeting at COP 23, and for the rest of the world too, Jackson offers some hope, despite President Donald Trump’s promises (so far largely unfulfilled) to revive the fossil fuel industry.

"This year’s result is discouraging, but I remain hopeful. In the U.S., cities, states and companies have seized leadership on energy efficiency and low-carbon renewables that the federal government has abdicated. … Prices for wind and solar power are plummeting, and batteries and storage are helping to balance supply and demand for electricity. The world’s energy future is changing before our eyes."

The three reports — "Global Carbon Budget 2017," "Towards real time verification of CO2 emissions" and "Warning signs for stabilizing global CO2 emissions" — appeared in Earth System Science Data Discussions, Nature Climate Change and Environmental Research Letters respectively.