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The world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are coming under fresh scrutiny after global temperatures averaged 17.01°C on Monday, the highest yet recorded.

More than half of the world’s population has been affected as several regions were struck by record heatwaves in recent weeks, including South and Southeast Asia, the northern regions of China, North Africa and parts of North America.

Climate scientists expect further records to be hit in 2023 as rising emissions of CO2 combine with an El Niño weather pattern to push average temperatures higher still.

In response to the sweltering conditions, several climate campaigners are calling for more urgent action among major economies to accelerate efforts to cut emissions and attempt to reverse temperature trajectories.

China, the world’s single-largest CO2 polluter since 2005, has come under particular scrutiny after it generated more than 30% of global CO2 discharge in 2022, according to the Energy Institute’s “Statistical Review of World Energy”.

According to environmental non-profit think-tank Ember, the country relied on thermal coal for more than 61% of electricity generation in 2022, which discharged more than 4.45-billion tonnes of CO2.

However, as the world’s largest and fastest-growing producer of renewable power, China is also the global leader in clean energy efforts and is on track to reach peak CO2 emissions as soon as 2023, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Japan and South Korea — the fifth- and 10th-largest polluters in 2022, respectively — have already reached peak CO2 emissions, according to Oxford Economics. The US, the second-largest polluter in 2022 and by far the largest overall CO2 emitter in history, has brought emissions onto a downward trajectory, as has Germany, Europe’s largest polluter.

Growing pains 

While the main economies of northeast Asia are expected to bring CO2 levels lower by 2030, key economies in South and Southeast Asia are expected to continue increasing CO2 discharge for several more years, projections by Oxford Economics show.

India, already the world’s third-largest CO2 polluter in 2022, is seen increasing total CO2 discharge until 2040, while emissions in Indonesia, the seventh-largest polluter in 2022, may not peak until 2050.

Brazil, number 13 on the CO2 list in 2022, looks set to keep discharge totals climbing over the coming years. Several other fast-growing economies have rising trajectories that look set to keep climbing until after 2040, including Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt, Mexico and the Philippines.

However, each nation also has aggressive plans for reducing energy sector emissions and lowering reliance on fossil fuels.

If those plans take root as quickly as they have in other economies in recent years, downward revisions to CO2 glide paths may soon become appropriate, which may lessen the toll on global climate systems.

But if most emerging economies maintain their current reliance on fossil-heavy energy systems, global emissions levels look set to keep climbing, and set the stage for even higher temperature records across the world in the years ahead.


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