Global carbon emissions are expected to rise this year to reach an all-time high, according to research released at the United Nations climate conference.
Scientists at the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project say carbon dioxide pollution is likely to hit 37.1 billion tonnes by the end of 2018, up 2.7% on last year.
It is the second year in a row that carbon emissions have increased, after three years of little or no growth.
Lead researcher Professor Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, told Sky News that coal is the main cause of the rise.
“The science is clear,” she said.
“To stop global warming the emissions of CO2 need to go down to zero.
“The faster they go down to zero the lower the risk to populations around the world. Moving out of coal has got to be a massive priority.”
Scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned this year that carbon emissions need to be cut by 50% in 12 years to stand any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C.
Any warmer and the planet’s climate would become dangerously unstable.
“We are a long way from this and much more needs to be done because if countries stick to the commitments they have already made (to cut carbon emissions) we are on track to see 3C of global warming,” Professor Le Quéré said.
China remains the biggest carbon polluter, accounting for 27% of the global total, the analysis shows.
The US produces 15% of the total, and the European Union takes third place accounting for 10%.
The data was published in the journals Nature, Earth System Science Data and Environmental Research Letters.
More than 100 leaders of political, civil and business sectors have signed a commentary on the research in Nature.
Christiana Figueres, one of the co-authors and the former UN climate chief who led the Paris summit said: “Global CO2 emissions must start to fall from 2020 if we are to meet the temperature goals of the Paris agreement, but this is within our grasp.
“We have already achieved things that seemed unimaginable just a decade ago.”
The research offers a glimmer of hope.
China is rapidly moving towards clean energy, with wind and solar growing 25% a year.
That is partly because of technological advances and partly rising demand is reducing production costs.
Robert Cyglicki, director of Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe, said: “The economic and technological drivers are in favour of renewable resources.
“We see electricity prices from solar and wind are cheaper than coal.
“So it’s a very strong signal coming from the markets, but also from the business circles. We are ready for the transformation.”
There is a deep irony that the UN climate conference is being held in Katowice, Poland’s capital of coal. Around 80% of the country’s electricity is generated in coal-fired power stations.
Under the Polish government’s energy forecast, coal would still generate 60% of its electricity in 2040.
It insists that a combination of new clean coal power stations and expansion of forests can clean up the energy sector.
But environmental group dismiss that claim, warning that tree planting must not be seen as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.