Global energy consumption increased strongly in 2018

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Despite all climate targets, global CO2 emissions grew more strongly in 2018 than in the previous seven years. This growth was partly due to extreme weather, according to experts.

In mid-May, researchers from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported the expected and feared record: The concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen to more than 415 ppm (parts per million). For comparison, before the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the proportion was fairly stable at 280 ppm.

You have to go back a long way in the history of the earth, in order to reach similar high values. The last time was three million years ago in the Pliocene when there was 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. At that time, global average temperatures were three to four degrees Celsius higher than today. And the sea level was 15 meters higher.

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No turnaround in sight

At the moment, there are few indications that a trend reversal in carbon dioxide emissions will happen anytime soon. The latest figures are provided by BP: The British oil company has presented its 68th World Energy Report (“Statistical Review of World Energy”), which provides the most reliable data on global energy production and global energy consumption. And the trends readable from this report are far from those development paths that would be needed to meet the Paris goals, as Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist, summarizes.

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According to the calculations of the BP experts, the global energy consumption increased by 2.9 percent in relation to 2017 – compared to the averaged growth of the last ten years, this is almost twice the value. Carbon dioxide emissions, on the other hand, increased by two percent, growing faster than in the seven years before.

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There is also good news

One of the few good news: the strongest growth was achieved in energy produced from non-hydropower sources (14.5 percent), which is particularly strong in China. Nevertheless, the “renewables” in 2018 contributed only 9.3 percent of global electricity production.

In absolute terms, both production and consumption of natural gas — and especially those promoted in the US — are growing particularly strongly. Both figures were more than five percent higher than in 2017. Natural gas is still behind oil and coal in terms of primary energy.

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In terms of energy consumption, three countries accounted for more than two-thirds of growth: China, India and the US, where energy hunger was particularly strong. Regarding the reasons for the global increase in energy consumption, Spencer Dale cites economic growth as one of the main reasons for the increase. On the other hand, he emphasizes a factor that could provide additional drama in the climate crisis.

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Extreme weather as a factor

According to the calculations of the BP experts, about a quarter of the increase in energy consumption was due to the fact that it was particularly cold in the winter of 2018, especially in the US, but also in Russia and China in the winter and very hot in the summer. In other words, more energy was needed for heating and cooling than in previous years due to weather extremes.

The key question is whether this is a random fluctuation or is already a consequence of the climate crisis. If climate change is really behind that, then it could set in motion a vicious cycle of extreme weather and higher energy consumption, leading to more CO2 emissions. Spencer Dale does not commit himself to this interpretation: one must, however, closely observe the developments of the next few years.

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Carl Frantz

Polyglot, humanitarian, Carl was born in Germany but raised in the USA. He writes mostly on tech, science and culture.