On 26 March, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) announced the release of its latest report on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the findings are worrying, to say the least.
Global carbon levels spiked last year by 1.7 per cent from the previous year ― a record high of 30 billion tonnes of CO2 was released into the atmosphere. This represents an increase of 560 million tonnes, which is the equivalent to total annual emissions produced by the aviation industry.
The largest increases in emissions were in China, the US, and India. The three countries are responsible for 70 per cent of the total increase in energy demand and 85 per cent of the net increase in emissions. Whereas, emissions in Europe and the UK declined.
The three years leading up to 2017 were flat in terms of carbon emissions with only a slight increase in 2017. This may be why the latest results are such a surprise to many. Despite widespread efforts to reduce emissions, they have risen in each of the first two full years since the signing of the Paris climate agreement. This means the world is already falling short of the targets set for 2025 ― a 26 to 28 per cent reduction in emissions.
Executive Director of IEA, Fatih Birol stated, “We see that there is a growing disconnect between those calls and what is happening in the real markets,” adding that “Once again, we have a major increase in global CO2 emissions, which brings us further to reach the climate targets which were established by several countries internationally.”
The average annual growth rate in global energy consumptions doubled in 2018, rising by 2.3 per cent since 2010. The main culprit is strong economic growth in the United States and Asia, which is driving these ever-increasing energy demands, according to IEA. Moreover, extreme weather events drain valuable resources by increasing the use of air conditioning and heating.
Fossil fuels were the main cause of the global rise in CO2 emissions, meeting almost 70 per cent of new energy demands for the second year running. Coal is still king it would seem as demand increased for the black gold (up 0.7 per cent), as well as oil (a rise of 1.3 per cent) and natural gas (4.6 per cent), reflecting the growth in the global economy.
Despite a seven per cent increase in the use of renewable energy ― led by an increase in solar energy of more than 30 per cent and wind by as much as 12 per cent ― many countries are still turning to dirty fuels to meet their growing energy demands. Renewable energy sources accounted for only 26 per cent of global electricity production last year, whereas coal accounted for around 38 per cent.
The figures for the US are possibly the most surprising. Natural gas consumption increased by 10 per cent and oil demand by 540,000 barrels per day in 2018, resulting in a 3.1% increase in carbon emissions. This may, in part, be a consequence of the rollback of environmental policies by the Trump administration.
Furthermore, while the use of coal is declining in the US and Europe, economic development is increasing consumption in Asia — the IEA figures point to an increase of around 5 per cent in both India and China.
Solutions are clearly not being deployed quickly enough and rising emissions will make the goals of the Paris Agreement all the more difficult to achieve.