Global greenhouse gas emissions surged in 2018 on the back of rising energy demand that was met substantially by burning more coal in India and China

Increasing coal use of driving up global emissions growth (Photo by Anatoly Stafichuk)

Increasing coal use is driving up global emissions growth (Photo by Anatoly Stafichuk)

In a blow to climate change mitigation, energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide rose steeply by 1.7% to a record 33 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2018, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its latest status report. Energy demand grew by 2.3% last year, its quickest acceleration in this decade that was driven by a robust global economy, the agency said in its report released on March 26.

India, China and the US accounted for nearly 70% of the rise in energy demand around the world, IEA said. Global coal consumption rose 0.7%, with increases seen only in Asia, particularly in China, India and a few countries in South and Southeast Asia

Demand for all fuels increased, with fossil fuels meeting nearly 70% of the expansion for the second straight year. Although capacity addition of solar and wind power grew at double digits, with solar alone increasing by 31%, it was not fast enough to meet higher electricity demand that drove up coal use, the IEA said in its Global Energy & CO2 Status Report for 2018. This annual report provides an updated view of energy markets, including latest available data for oil, natural gas, coal, wind, solar, nuclear power, electricity, and energy efficiency.

Of the 33 Gt of energy emissions last year, the use of coal to generate electricity surpassed 10 Gt for the first time ever, accounting for a third of the total increase. The IEA singled out India and China for burning more coal to meet energy demand. “The majority of coal-fired generation capacity today is found in Asia, with 12-year-old plants on average, decades short of average lifetimes of around 50 years,” it said.

“We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade,” Fatih Birol, IEA’s Executive Director, said in a statement. “Despite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts — developing all clean energy solutions, curbing emissions, improving efficiency, and spurring investments and innovation, including in carbon capture, utilisation and storage.”

Increased electricity demand

Global electricity demand grew by 4% in 2018 to more than 23,000 TWh. The rapid growth is pushing electricity towards a 20% share in total final consumption of energy, the IEA said. Increasing power generation was responsible for half of the growth in primary energy demand.

Much of the expansion of power generation was in renewable sources of energy, which accounted for nearly half of electricity demand growth. China was the leader in wind and solar power, followed by Europe and the US.

India also added significantly in installing renewables capacity. By January this year, total renewable power installed capacity in the country, which excludes large hydropower generation, stood at 74.08 GW. India is expected to add up to 8.5 GW of renewable energy capacity in 2018-19, according to India Brand Equity Foundation, an agency of India’s Commerce Ministry.

As much as 74% of the 17.6 GW power generation capacity that India added in 2018 came from renewables, primarily solar power. The capacity addition in renewables was the highest in a year for India so far. However, the country’s reliance on coal-fuelled power plants is yet to decline.

Fossil carbon dioxide emissions were expected to rise by as much as 2.7% in 2018 after expanding by 1.6% last year, the Global Carbon Project had predicted at the annual UN climate summit in December. The projected rise is driven by “solid growth” in coal use for the second year in a row, and “sustained growth” in oil and gas use, it said. See: Coal and cars drive up emissions growth

Paris pact in danger

The spurt in emissions growth could compromise the aims of the Paris Agreement to keep temperatures “well within” 2 degrees Celsius. The additional emissions will add 2.3 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to reach 407 ppm by the end of 2018, which is 45% above pre-industrial levels.

India is likely to surpass its commitments on greenhouse gas emission checks and energy transition to renewables made under the 2015 Paris pact 10 years ahead of time. The South Asian giant’s climate action plan under the Paris Agreement has promised that it would increase the share of renewables to 40% of its power generation capacity and reduce its economy’s emission intensity by 33-35% by 2030 from levels seen in 2005. See: India to achieve emissions control targets well ahead of time

In 2030, when countries have to take stock of their commitments under the Paris climate agreement, India will double its carbon dioxide emissions from its 2012 levels, but will still be within its intensity pledge, according to a 2018 study by New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research (CPR). See: India to double emissions by 2030, but within Paris commitments

Although India plays a key role as a significant emitter of greenhouse gases, it has started with a low base level, CPR said. As a large emerging economy, the country is also a major actor in mitigating carbon emissions, it said.

The IEA status report said global energy intensity improved by a mere 1.3% last year, just half the rate of the period between 2014-2016. This third consecutive year of slowdown was the result of weaker energy efficiency policy implementation and strong demand growth in more energy intensive economies, the Paris-based autonomous organisation said.

Almost a fifth of the increase in global energy demand came from higher demand for heating and cooling as average winter and summer temperatures in some regions approached or exceeded historical records, which has been partly attributed to climate change. Cold snaps drove demand for heating and, more significantly, hotter summer temperatures pushed up demand for cooling, IEA said.

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