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Global Carbon Emissions Rise for First Time Since 2014

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Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy increased for the first time in 2017 after three years of remaining flat, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Thursday, meaning the world remains far off course in curbing planet warming emissions.

Carbon emissions reached a record-high of 32.5 gigatonnes in 2017 due to global economic growth and increased energy demands that was met mostly by fossil fuels. As the Financial Times noted, that growth—an increase of 460 million tonnes—is the equivalent to the emissions of an additional 170 million cars.


These findings are part of the Paris-based IEA's "Global Energy and CO2 Status Report" released today.

The report shows that global energy demand rose by 2.1 percent last year (or 14,050 million tonnes of oil equivalent), more than twice the rate in 2016. Oil, natural gas and coal met more than 70 percent of additional need, while renewable energy met just about the rest.

Global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 1.4 percent in 2017, reaching a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes, a resumption of growth after three years of global emissions remaining flat.Global Energy & CO2 Status Report

"The significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient," said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, in a statement.

"For example, there has been a dramatic slowdown in the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency as policy makers have put less focus in this area."

The IEA's findings "demonstrates that current efforts are insufficient to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement," the report says. The 2015 Paris agreement set a primary goal to limit global warming well below 2°C to avoid dangerous climate tipping points.

"Global emissions need to peak soon and decline steeply to 2020; this decline will now need to be even greater given the increase in emissions in 2017," the report says.

However, this increase was not universal. While most major economies saw a rise, others such as the U.S., UK, Mexico and Japan experienced declines in CO2 emissions.

Interestingly, the greatest decline came from the U.S., where emissions fell by 0.5 percent, the third consecutive year of decline. This is despite President Trump's push for fossil fuels and his intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

The reason behind the drop? Mainly because of higher deployment of renewables. In the U.S., a record 17 percent of electricity generation was from renewables last year. According to the report, 10 gigawatts of solar PV was added in 2017, down 30 percent relative to 2016 but still the second highest year on record.

The report also highlighted the clean energy strides of another major global polluter and the world's largest heat consumer: China.

"China's economy grew nearly 7 percent last year but emissions increased by just 1.7 percent (or 150 Mt) thanks to continued renewables deployment and faster coal-to-gas switching."

Asian economies accounted for two-thirds of the global increase in carbon emissions.Global Energy & CO2 Status Report

Renewable energy played the most important role in the growth of low-carbon energy, the report points out. The sector saw the highest rate of growth of any energy source in 2017, and met around a quarter of global energy demand growth last year.

Here are other key findings of the IEA report:

  • Oil demand grew by 1.6 percent, more than twice the average annual rate seen over the past decade, driven by the transport sector (in particular a growing share of SUVs and trucks in major economies) as well as rising petrochemical demand.
  • Natural gas consumption grew 3 percent, the most of all fossil fuels, with China alone accounting for nearly a third of this growth, and the buildings and industry sectors contributing to 80 percent of the increase in global demand.
  • Coal demand rose about 1 percent, reversing declines over the previous two years, driven by an increase in coal-fired electricity generation mostly in Asia.
  • Renewables had the highest growth rate of any fuel, meeting a quarter of world energy demand growth, as renewables-based electricity generation rose 6.3 percent, driven by expansion of wind, solar and hydropower.
  • Electricity generation increased by 3.1 percent, significantly faster than overall energy demand, and India and China together accounting for 70 percent of the global increase.
  • Energy efficiency improvements slowed significantly, with global energy intensity improving by only 1.7 percent in 2017 compared with 2.3 percent on average over the last three years, caused by an apparent slowdown in efficiency policy coverage and stringency and lower energy prices.
  • Fossil fuels accounted for 81 percent of total energy demand in 2017, a level that has remained stable for more than three decades.
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