Last week the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019 was released, covering energy data through 2018. The Review provides a comprehensive picture of supply and demand for major energy sources on a country-level basis. I consider it to be the bible of energy data. It is a primary source of data for numerous companies, government agencies and non-government organizations.
Since its release, I have been busy analyzing the data and creating graphics. I strive to uncover nuggets of information and analyze the data in unique ways. In upcoming articles I will detail which countries are biggest producers and consumers of various types of energy, but today I want to cover the Review’s data on carbon emissions.
The subtitle for this year’s Review was “an unsustainable path.” In introducing this year’s Review, Spencer Dale, BP chief economist, explained the subtitle:
There is a growing mismatch between societal demands for action on climate change and the actual pace of progress, with energy demand and carbon emissions growing at their fastest rate for years. The world is on an unsustainable path.”
Dale’s comments echoed BP CEO Bob Dudley’s introduction to the 2019 Review. After noting that global energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions had grown at the fastest rate in nearly a decade, Dudley warned:
BP’s economics team estimate that much of the rise in energy growth last year can be traced back to weather-related effects, as families and businesses increased their demand for cooling and heating in response to an unusually large number of hot and cold days. The acceleration in carbon emissions was the direct result of this increased energy consumption.
Even if these weather effects are short-lived, such that the growth in energy demand and carbon emissions slow over the next few years, there seems little doubt that the current pace of progress is inconsistent with the Paris climate goals. The world is on an unsustainable path: the longer carbon emissions continue to rise, the harder and more costly will be the eventual adjustment to net-zero carbon emissions. Yet another year of growing carbon emissions underscores the urgency for the world to change.”
To put matters in perspective, over the past decade global energy consumption has grown at an average rate of 1.5%. In 2018, that rate was nearly double that at 2.9%. Carbon dioxide emissions have grown at an average rate of 1.0%; in 2018 they rose 2.0%.
Emissions were driven by increases in consumption of all the major fossil fuels. Coal consumption increased for the second year in a row in 2018, following three years of decline. Global oil consumption increased by 1.5% to a new all-time high. And natural gas consumption was up over 5%, one of the strongest rates of growth for over 30 years.
Thus, even though renewables grew by 14.5% — near the record-breaking pace of 2017 — they only accounted for 26% of the total global increase in global energy consumption. To put it another way, modern renewable energy consumption (mainly wind and solar power) grew by 71 million metric tons of oil equivalent in 2018. But fossil fuels grew by nearly four times that amount, hence the increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
China continues to lead the world in global carbon dioxide emissions, which grew there to another record in 2018. U.S. emissions, which had been on a downtrend over the past decade, saw its emissions rise by 2.6% in 2018.
Emissions in the U.S. and EU have been on a general downtrend in recent years, but those in Asia Pacific continue to drive the rise in global emissions:
Global growth in carbon dioxide emissions over the past 30 years has been primarily driven by the Asia Pacific region. This is primarily a function of rising coal consumption in the region. In 1985, Asia Pacific’s emissions were lower than those of the U.S. or EU. In 2018, they were nearly double the combined emissions of the U.S. and EU.
It is true that the U.S. has put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other country, although it will eventually be passed by China. It’s also worth noting that per capita emissions in the U.S. are significantly higher than China’s.
In 2018, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions were 15.3 metric tons per person. (Incidentally, this wasn’t highest in the world; most Middle Eastern countries were ahead of this). In China, they were 6.8 metric tons per person. So China has just under half the per capita emissions, but more than four times the U.S. population.
Although China’s coal consumption has been relatively stable for the past four years, the country still consumes just over 50% of the world’s coal. Given that coal consumption has the highest associated carbon dioxide emissions among the fossil fuels, the single biggest action the world could take to reduce emissions would be to displace China’s coal-fired power by cleaner power sources. Of course other actions should be taken, but there is no denying that this represents an enormous source of global carbon dioxide emissions.