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Carbon emissions rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, according to 2021 Global Carbon Budget released at COP26
Jessica Mkitarian
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Carbon emissions rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, according to 2021 Global Carbon Budget released at COP26

Global carbon emissions are projected to bounce back to 36.4 billion metric tons this year after an unprecedented drop caused by the response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the 2021 Global Carbon Budget, released November 4, 2021 by the Global Carbon Project. 

The Global Carbon Budget is updated annually, and this year the findings were released as world leaders meet at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, to address the climate crisis and try to agree on a plan of action going forward.

While total emissions of carbon dioxide, or CO2, from fossil fuel use and land-use change combined have remained relatively constant around 40 billion metric tons over the past decade, emissions from China and India continue to increase as emissions of CO2 generated by the United States and European Union continue to decline.

The report concludes that at current levels of pollution, the world has 11 years left before global warming surges past the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 would require cutting total CO2 emissions by roughly the same amount observed during the coronavirus slowdown - every year.

NOAA’s ocean and atmospheric CO2 measurements are essential for understanding the global carbon cycle - the amount of carbon emitted to the atmosphere and the amount removed by carbon sinks such as terrestrial plants, soils, and the ocean. Carbon sinks are important to understand because they help to offset greenhouse gas pollution that would otherwise accumulate more rapidly in the atmosphere.

Land and ocean CO2 sinks combined take up about half of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere during the period from 2011-2020. A series of modeling studies suggests that during the same period climate change reduced the land sink by about 15% and the ocean sink by about 5%. However, ocean observations suggest that the ocean sink increased over that time period, which points to the need for additional investigation. To address this gap, NOAA has committed to establishing a Global Operational Surface Ocean CO2 Network that can deliver information and data on the ocean carbon sink in a timely fashion.

Scientists from 70 institutions on five continents contribute to the Global Carbon Budget, including several NOAA scientists from the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab and the Global Monitoring Lab. Research and observations conducted by scientists at these labs is largely supported by the Global Ocean Monitoring and Observing Program

Read additional highlights about this report on NOAA Research and find details on the Global Carbon Project website. Learn more about NOAA’s involvement at the COP26 on the new Climate.gov site.

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