The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: Carbon emissions were flat only two years ago. Not anymore.

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with Paulina Firozi


Three years ago, the world's nations gathered in Paris to sign an agreement to voluntarily cut climate-altering emissions enough to hold global warming below levels deemed dangerous.

But new research published on Wednesday, while diplomats meet yet again in Poland to hash out of the details of implementing that accord, show the world is far off track from meeting those goals, The Post's Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney report.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide are reaching the highest levels on record, scientists projected Wednesday, in the latest evidence of the chasm between international goals for combating climate change and what countries are doing.

Between 2014 and 2016, emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner. Those hopes appear to have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6 percent. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7 percent.

Driving that growth in emissions, according to newly published research from the Global Carbon Project, are the world's two most populous countries.

The biggest emissions story in 2018, though, appears to be China, the world’s largest emitting country, which grew its output of planet-warming gases by nearly a half-billion tons, researchers estimate. (The United States is the globe’s second-largest emitter.)

The country’s sudden, significant increase in carbon emissions could be linked to a wider slowdown in the economy, environmental analysts said.

“Under pressure of the current economic downturn, some local governments might have loosened supervision on air pollution and carbon emissions,” said Yang Fuqiang, an energy adviser to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental organization.


The problem of cutting emissions is that it leads to difficult choices in the real world. A growing global economy inevitably stokes more energy demand. And different countries are growing their emissions — or failing to shrink them — for different reasons.

“India is providing electricity and energy to hundreds of millions of people who don’t have it yet,” Jackson said. “That’s very different than in China, where they are ramping up coal use again in part because their economic growth has been slowing. They’re greenlighting coal-based projects that have been on hold.”

The continuing growth in global emissions is happening, researchers noted, even though renewable energy sources are growing. It’s just that they’re still far too small as energy sources.

But the Paris agreement requires emissions cuts much sooner from already industrialized nations, like the United States. It too increased emissions over the past year while those of the European Union are expected to decline by just under 1 percent. 

In the United States, emissions in 2018 are projected to have risen 2.5 percent, driven in part by a very warm summer that led to high air conditioning use and a very cold winter in the Northeast, but also by a continued use of oil driven by low gas prices and bigger cars. U.S. emissions had been on a downturn, as coal plants are being replaced by natural gas plants and renewable energy, but that momentum ground to a halt this year, at least temporarily.

Read the entire report here:

‘We are in trouble.’ Global carbon emissions reached a record high in 2018. (Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney)


— Senate nears approving controversial energy panel pick: The Senate voted 50-49 on Wednesday to advance the nomination of Bernard McNamee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Every Democrat voted against the Energy Department official who helped craft a proposal to aid struggling coal and nuclear plants that failed in front of FERC . 

Among the "nay" votes was even newly reelected Sen. Joe Manchin III, who in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted in favor of the nomination. The pro-coal West Virginia Democrat, who environmentalist worry will be elevated to run that committee, said he changed his mind due to past comments from McNamee dismissing humans impact on the climate, according to Bloomberg News.

Other Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), came out to vocally oppose the nomination ahead of the final vote:

— EPA employees worried about climate science being black-and-blued by "red team-blue team" debate: In internal agency emails, career employees at the Environmental Protection Agency fretted about a plan from former agency administrator Scott Pruitt to host a military-style debate pitting climate scientists against climate skeptics, the Daily Beast reports.

“I liken it to a bar discussion of the best football team of all time - after 4-5 beers,” Dan Costa, who ran the EPA's air, climate, and energy research program, wrote in a July 2017 email.  Andy Miller, EPA's associate director for climate, replied: “And one of the more argumentative participants only watches Australian rules football...”

More than 7,700 pipes replaced ahead of schedule in Flint (Associated Press)


— Oil watch: Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are set to meet at the oil cartel’s twice-yearly meeting in Vienna on Thursday that’s expected to host more than 200 oil industry representatives, analysts and members of the media, the New York Times reports.

The Trump effect: The Times writes it’s a “tricky time” for the organization and “more important, for the oil industry and consumers who depend on the world’s most abundant energy source… Adding to the uncertainty, any steps OPEC takes to curb production or raise prices may anger President Trump, who has tried to influence the oil markets in more obvious ways than any of his predecessors.”

What is expected to result from the meeting? Some possible outcomes:

  • “A monitoring committee of OPEC and its allies, including Russia, agreed on the need to cut oil output in 2019, two sources familiar with the discussions said, adding that volumes and the baseline for cuts were being debate,” Reuters reports.
  • CNN Business adds. “But some analysts say Saudi Arabia may seek a modest cut to try to balance the demand from Trump for lower prices with the interests of OPEC members.” There’s also the chance of no production cut, though CNN adds analysts say “this is the least likely outcome."

Meanwhile, Trump continued on Wednesday morning ahead of the meeting to pressure other oil-producing nations pump yet more oil:


— Californians return to ruin: It’s been nearly a month since many residents of northern California fled their homes to escape the raging Camp Fire. Now, they're beginning to return to what’s left. The fire itself, the deadliest the state has ever seen, killed at least 88 people and scorched more than 10,000 structures in the region. As of this week, 11 people are still unaccounted for following the deadly blaze. The cause of the fire is still unknown, The Post’s Scott Wilson reports.

“Compounding the loss for the thousands of evacuees has been the purgatory of waiting to return,” he writes. “Search and rescue workers, utility companies and other cleanup operations have been trying to make these ruined communities safe for even the briefest of surveys — arduous, grim work that is still underway. Paradise will not be open to the public for some time, the city is still a maze of closed roads and ruin, with workers in cranes trimming trees and fixing power lines.”

— 150 minutes of hell: Here’s a must-read story from the San Francisco Chronicle on two-and-a-half hours of survival and disaster as a fire tornado tore through Redding, Calif. during the Carr Fire last July. “The vortex of air ripped around a column of rising heat, flames licking its walls,” the story reads. “A freak of meteorology, it would annihilate everything in its path, uprooting trees and crumpling electrical towers. For the men and women who spend their summers on the fire lines, the tornado was an ominous glimpse of the extremes our warming climate will bring.”

 — Study finds plastic particles in all studied turtles: A new study that examined more than 100 sea turtles of all seven species in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean found every single turtle had microplastics in their gut. “More than 800 synthetic particles were found in the turtles and researchers warned that the true number of particles was probably 20 times higher, as only a part of each animal's gut was tested,” CNN reports on a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology. “Synthetic particles were found in all the animals, and the most common sources of these materials were tires, cigarettes, clothing and marine equipment, including ropes and fishing nets.”



  • The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on oceans, atmosphere, fisheries, and Coast Guard is scheduled to hold a hearing to examine preparing for maritime transportation in a changing arctic.
  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds a public meeting.

Coming Up

  • The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on environment holds a hearing on a discussion draft of the 21st Century Transportation Fuels Act on Dec. 11.

— Wise beyond her years: At nearly 70 years old, the oldest known wild bird returned to Midway Atoll, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says is "home to over 70% of Laysan Albatross," to lay eggs.