The danger of inaction is made abundantly clear in the latest snapshot of global energy consumption and carbon emissions released by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Global energy consumption in 2018 increased at nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010, driven by a robust global economy and higher heating and cooling needs in some parts of the world.
Higher electricity demand was responsible for over half of the growth in energy needs, according to the 2018 Global Energy & CO2 Status Report.
As a result of higher energy consumption, CO2 emissions rose 1.7% last year and hit a new record.
Energy consumption worldwide grew by 2.3% in 2018.The biggest gains came from natural gas, which emerged as the fuel of choice last year, accounting for nearly 45% of the increase in total energy demand.
As a result of higher energy consumption, global energy-related CO2 emissions increased to 33.1 Gt CO2, up 1.7%. Coal-fired power generation continues to be the single largest emitter, accounting for 30% of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.
Higher energy demand was propelled by a global economy that expanded by 3.7% in 2018, a higher pace than the average annual growth of 3.5% seen since 2010. China, the United States, and India together accounted for nearly 70% of the rise in energy demand.
Weather conditions last year were also responsible for almost a fifth of the increase in global energy demand as average winter and summer temperatures in some regions approached or exceeded historical records. Cold snaps drove demand for heating and, more significantly, hotter summer temperatures pushed up demand for cooling.
China saw the most substantial increase in energy demand, which grew 3.5% to 3 155 Mtoe, the highest since 2012. This accounted for a third of global growth. Demand expanded for all fuels, but with gas in the lead, replacing coal to meet heating needs and accounting for one third of growth.
This increase in emissions was the highest rate of growth since 2013, and 70% higher than the average increase since 2010. Last year’s growth of 560 Mt was equivalent to the total emissions from international aviation.
CO2 emissions stagnated between 2014 and 2016, even as the global economy continued to expand. This decoupling was primarily the result of strong energy efficiency improvements and low-carbon technology deployment, leading to a decline in coal demand. But the dynamics changed in 2017 and 2018.
Higher economic growth was not met by higher energy productivity, lower-carbon options did not scale fast enough to meet the rise in demand.
The result was that CO2 emissions increased by nearly 0.5% for every 1% gain in global economic output compared with an increase of 0.3% on average since 2010.
Renewables and nuclear energy have nonetheless made an impact, with emissions growing 25% slower than energy demand in 2018.
For the first time, the IEA assessed the impact of fossil fuel use on global temperature increases. It found that CO2 emitted from coal combustion was responsible for over 0.3°C of the 1°C increase in global average annual surface temperatures above pre-industrial levels. This makes coal the single largest source of global temperature increase.
The global average annual concentration of C02 in the atmosphere averaged 407.4 ppm in 2018, up 2.4 ppm since 2017. This is a major increase from pre-industrial levels, which ranged between 180 and 280 ppm.
In fact, coal-fired power plants were the single largest contributor to the growth in emissions observed in 2018, with an increase of 2.9%, or 280 Mt, compared with 2017 levels, exceeding 10 Gt for the first time.
The majority of coal-fired electricity generation today is found in Asia, where average plants are only 12 years old, decades younger than their average economic lifetime of around 40 years.
The impact of weather conditions was especially marked in the United States, driving up cooling and heating needs and accounting for about 60% of the emissions increase in 2018.
Across Europe emissions fell by 1.3%, or 50 Mt. The emissions decline was driven by a drop of 4.5% in Germany, as both oil and coal combustion fell sharply.
CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom declined for a sixth year, hitting some of the lowest levels recorded since 1888. France also saw a significant drop in emissions, as electricity generation from hydroelectric and nuclear power stations meant that coal and gas plants saw lower utilisation in 2018 than in 2017.
Renewables increased by 4% in 2018, accounting for almost one-quarter of global energy demand growth. The power sector led the gains, with renewables-based electricity generation increasing at its fastest pace this decade.
Solar PV, hydropower, and wind each accounted for about a third of the growth, with bioenergy accounting for most of the rest. Renewables covered almost 45% of the world’s electricity generation growth, now accounting for over 25% of global power output.