Energy emissions rise at fastest rate in seven years

Energy emissions rise at fastest rate in seven years

Emissions rising
ShutterstockGreenBiz Collage / Magnus Binnerstam

Carbon emissions from the global energy industry rose at their fastest pace in seven years last year, according to new data released this week by oil giant BP which provides a sobering reality check on global progress to tackle climate change.

In its influential Review of World Energy report, the oil giant calculates carbon emissions grew by 2 percent in 2018, the fastest rate of growth since 2011. It said the uptick largely was driven by extreme weather pushing up demand for heating and cooling.

An "unusually large number" of hot and cold days pushed up demand for natural gas, BP said, which rose more than 5 percent compared to a year earlier. Global coal consumption also rose 1.4 percent, recording its second annual increase after the brief post-2015 period during which global emissions remained largely flat. 

"The acceleration in carbon emissions was the direct result of this increased energy consumption," BP concluded (PDF). "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."

The stark warning came despite near-record rates of new renewables deployment, with renewable energy sources the largest source of new electricity generation worldwide for the third year in a row. China was once again the largest contributor to renewables' growth, with new generation in the country outstripping the entire OECD.

The United States, meanwhile, logged the largest annual production increases by any country for both oil and natural gas.

The figures provide a bleak contrast to rising public concern over climate change, with the issue a top priority for voters across Europe and parts of the United States.

Last week, data from YouGov found British voters rank climate change as the third most pressing concern after Brexit and health services, while in Germany concern about climate change has pushed the Green Party to the top of national polls.

But fears are mounting amongst politicians, investors and business leaders that unless growing concern over climate impacts translates into bolder decarbonization policies, the world still risks passing climatic tipping points that could unleash runaway climate change.

Echoing warnings from economists and environmental campaigns, BP chief executive Bob Dudley said delay in curbing emissions will increase the costs of decarbonization.

"The longer carbon emissions continue to rise, the harder and more costly will be the necessary eventual adjustment to net-zero carbon emissions," he said. "As I have said before, this is not a race to renewables, but a race to reduce carbon emissions across many fronts."

BP and the wider oil industry have faced fierce criticism for investing a relatively small proportion of their capital expenditure in clean technologies and lobbying against more ambitious climate policies. 

However, in recent years a number of oil majors, including BP, have set new emissions targets and stepped up their interests in low carbon infrastructure such as renewables, CCS, and electric vehicle charging.

They are also facing growing pressure from investors to beef up their decarbonization strategies, as evidenced by this week's confirmation Norway's sovereign wealth fund is to divest from upstream oil and gas and coal companies.

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