Record carbon emissions a blow to anti-pollution efforts

Global coal demand grew for the second consecutive year in 2018, driven by Asia's appetite for the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Global coal demand grew for the second consecutive year in 2018, driven by Asia's appetite for the dirtiest fossil fuel. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use hit a record high last year after energy demand grew at its fastest pace in a decade, reflecting higher oil consumption in the United States and more coal burning in China and India.

Those findings from the International Energy Agency (IEA) mark a setback for the effort to rein in the pollution blamed for global warming just three years after a landmark deal in Paris where all nations committed to cut emissions.

The figures showed that natural gas is becoming a preferred fuel for factories and utilities while the pace of installing renewable forms of energy is lagging. The report also indicated the strength of the global economic expansion last year, with gains in electricity consumption and more notably in the US.

"We have seen spectacular growth of the economy in the US," said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the Paris-based institution advising nations on energy policy. "We have seen several new petrochemical projects coming online."

Energy demand grew 2.3 per cent last year, the most in a decade, according to the IEA. It showed a record 33 gigatons of carbon emissions from energy, up 1.7 per cent from the previous year. Global electricity demand rose 4 per cent and was responsible for half the growth in overall energy demand.

Global coal demand grew for the second consecutive year last year, driven by Asia's appetite for the dirtiest fossil fuel. Even as its share of the global energy mix fell, coal remains the world's biggest source of electricity. Natural gas use rose 4.6 per cent.

The US increased its use of oil products at a faster rate than any other country for the first time in 20 years, overtaking China. The US boosted oil use by 540,000 barrels a day, a fifth more than China even though China has four times the population and is moving towards a less oil-intensive model in order to improve its urban air quality.

 
 

The pace of energy efficiency improvements fell, and renewables growth did not keep pace with surging electricity demand. Global output of greenhouse gases from energy-related sources rose to a record high as energy demand jumped at its fastest pace in a decade.

Global energy-related emissions hit an all-time high last year of 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a growth rate of 1.7 per cent, which represents the fastest rise since 2013. Coal-fired power plants were the single largest contributor to the growth in emissions, accounting for 30 per cent of the rise.

Emissions are still increasing in China and India. The US saw a rise in emissions after they fell in 2017. Germany, Japan, Mexico, France and Britain all saw declining output.

The world needs to cut the use of coal-fired power to almost nothing by 2050 to get anywhere close to limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C, a panel of United Nations scientists said in a report last year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2019, with the headline 'Record carbon emissions a blow to anti-pollution efforts'. Print Edition | Subscribe