Carbon emissions still rising despite renewables growth – IEA

Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose by 1.7% last year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s Global Energy & CO2 Status Report

The agency also found that demand for all fuels increased in 2018, with fossil fuels meeting nearly 70% of the growth for the second year in a row. 

Energy demand grew by 2.3% last year – the fastest rate in the past 10 years – thanks to a strong global economy and greater need for heating and cooling in some regions. According to the IEA, unpredictable cold snaps drove demand for heating and, more significantly, higher summer temperatures pushed up demand for cooling.

Natural gas posted the biggest gains, accounting for 45% of the rise in energy consumption, with demand growth particularly high in the US and China.

Meanwhile, coal use in power generation accounted for around one third of the CO2 emissions increase, says the report. Coal consumption rose 0.7%, with increases seen exclusively in developing countries in Asia. 

The majority of coal-fired generation capacity that exists today is found in Asia, where plants are an average of 12 years old. The expected lifetime of these coal-fired power stations is around 50 years.

‘Despite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts – developing all clean energy solutions, curbing emissions, improving efficiency, and spurring investments and innovation, including in carbon capture, utilisation and storage,’ says Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.

Electricity continued to position itself as the ‘fuel of the future’, with global demand growing by 4% in 2018. While solar and wind generation expanded at a double-digit rate, this growth was not fast enough to meet that increased electricity demand which ultimately drove up coal use. 

The US, China and India accounted for nearly 70% of the rise in energy demand worldwide, with the US recording the largest global rise in oil and gas demand. Its gas consumption jumped 10% from the previous year, the fastest increase since IEA records began 48 years ago.

Oil demand also grew 1.3% worldwide last year, with the US again leading the global increase for the first time in 20 years thanks to a strong expansion in petrochemicals, rising industrial production and trucking services.

However, the outlook doesn’t wholly favour fossil fuels: a separate report issued in late March by the environmental groups Global Energy Monitor, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club revealed that the number of coal plants under construction has fallen by 84% since 2015 and 39% in the last year alone. 

Meanwhile the number of completed coal plants has dropped by more than half since 2015, although China remains an exception to the downward trend. According to the report, satellite images reveal that the country has quietly resumed construction on dozens of coal-fired power projects that had previously been shelved.

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