Protesters demanding action on climate change – from the Extinction Rebellion activists to the global school strikes movement – may have proved adept at grabbing news headlines recently, but their cause has a long way to go.
Concern about climate change is high up the political agenda in many countries – Green parties fared particularly well in the recent European Parliament elections, for example – but this is not yet being matched by changing habits on a global level, according to data released today by oil giant BP.
In its annual Statistical Review of World Energy – published for the 68th year – the company said global energy demand and carbon emissions from energy use both grew strongly in 2018. Global energy demand was up by 2.9%, almost double the 1.5% average over the past ten years, while carbon emissions grew by 2%, marking their fastest rise in seven years.
All in all, “the energy data for 2018 paint a worrying picture,” said BP’s chief economist Spencer Dale.
There are a number of factors which explain the rise in energy use, according to BP, including economic growth in China (the world’s biggest consumer of energy) and changing weather patterns. The report said there was an unusually large number of hot and cold days last year, creating extra demand for air conditioning and heating.
The use of renewable energy grew by 14.5% last year – faster than any other form of energy and close to its record-breaking rise in 2017 – but it still only accounted for around a third of the increase in total power generation, even though it is often now cheaper than conventional power sources.
In comparison, natural gas consumption was up by 5.3%, one of the strongest rises in demand for the fuel in the past 30 years. Oil consumption grew by 1.5%, while coal consumption increased 1.4%.
Globally, oil remains the most important fuel, accounting for 33.6% of total energy consumption last year. It is followed by coal (27.2%), natural gas (23.9%), renewables and hydropower (10.8%) and nuclear (4.4%)
The rise in output of carbon fuels was led by the U.S., which posted the largest ever annual increases by any country in both oil and natural gas production last year, most of it coming from onshore shale.
The U.S. was also one of the three big markets when it came to increasing demand for energy, alongside China and India. Together these three countries accounted for more than two-thirds of the global increase in energy demand last year.
However, on a per capita basis their energy use is still easily outpaced by some of the world’s smallest and richest countries. Qataris are the most energy-hungry people in the world, using 750 Gigajoules (GJ) of energy in 2018, followed by Iceland (696 GJ), Singapore (633 GJ) and the UAE (492 GJ). The world average is just 76 GJ.
All this leaves plenty of headaches for policymakers around the world. BP may be a big contributor to global oil and gas use, but it has at least acknowledged that there is a problem which needs to be fixed if climate change issues are to be properly addressed.
“The world is on an unsustainable path,” said BP chief executive Bob Dudley, introducing the report on June 11. “The longer carbon emissions continue to rise, the harder and more costly will be the eventual adjustment to net-zero carbon emissions.”