Carbon emissions are at their highest rate since 2011, recent data shows. According to new research released by oil giant BP in its annual Statistical Review of World Energy, carbon emissions have risen at the fastest rate in nearly a decade and have jumped sharply since 2018 despite efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
Surprise swings in global temperatures and extreme weather in the last year have increased the demand for fossil fuels. The global energy demand was up by 2.9%, nearly double the 1.5% average over the last 10 years. Carbon emissions also increased by 2%, the fastest rise in seven years.
These percentages may seem small, but their implications aren’t. “The energy data for 2018 paints a worrying picture,” said Spencer Dale, the chief economist of BP.
Dale says the increase in carbon emissions is the equivalent of putting an additional 400 million combustion engine vehicles on the world’s roads. For perspective, there are 253 million cars on the road in the U.S. and 500,000 refrigerated trailers. Worse, every 100 pounds that’s added to the weight of a car costs one to two percent of its fuel economy!
“If there is a link between the growing levels of carbon in the atmosphere and the types of weather patterns observed in 2018 this would raise the possibility of a worrying vicious cycle: increasing levels of carbon leading to more extreme weather patterns, which in turn trigger stronger growth in energy (and carbon emissions) as households and businesses seek to offset their effects,” said Dale.
The use of renewable energy has grown by 14.5% since 2017. But renewable energy still only accounts for one-third of total power generation despite being cheaper than other power sources.
Natural gas consumption has also increased by 5.3%, one of the biggest increases in fuel demand in the last 30 years. Coal consumption increased by 1.4% and oil consumption increased by 1.5%.
Oil is currently the most important fuel. While world crude steel production increased by 2.9% in 2017, oil consumption accounted for 33.6% of global energy consumption in 2018. Coal accounted for 27.2%, natural gas 23.9%, renewables 10.8% and nuclear 4.4%.
The U.S. led the rise in output of carbon fuels. The country had the largest annual increases in oil and natural gas production with most of it coming from onshore shale.
Much of fuel use and carbon output comes from a variety of industries in the U.S. including the mining industry, bulk chemical industry, and refining industry. The fuel is used to help create products such as flexible graphite, which is 99% carbon, and run processes such as reaction injection molding to create molded polyurethane parts.
However, the U.S. isn’t the only country with increased energy demand. The U.S., China, and India together accounted for over two-thirds of the global increase in energy demand in 2018.
But on a per capita basis, the U.S. is actually being outpaced by some of the world’s smallest and wealthiest countries including Qataris, Iceland, Singapore, and the UAE.
“The world is on an unsustainable path,” said Bob Dudley, the chief executive of BP. “The longer carbon emissions continue to rise, the harder and more costly will be the eventual adjustment to net-zero carbon emissions.”