Global carbon emissions rise, cutting them will be a challenge, studies find
Energize Weekly, December 12, 2018
Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, driven by increased fossil fuel consumption, jumped in 2018. Even with major initiatives to curb carbon, fossil fuels are likely to hold a dominant share of energy production through 2040, according to a series of new studies.
Carbon emissions worldwide rose 2.7 percent in 2018, compared to 1.6 percent in 2017, according to a study by an international team of researchers.
The biggest contributors were China with 27 percent of global emissions, the U.S. with 15 percent and the European Union’s 27 members with 10 percent and India accounting for 7 percent.
The source of 90 percent of the emissions—a record 37.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide—was the burning of fossil fuels and cement production, a paper by an international scientific team said. Stanford University researcher Robert Jackson was the lead author.
“Additional increases in 2019 remain uncertain but appear likely because of persistent growth in oil and natural gas use and strong growth projected for the global economy,” the researchers said. “Coal use has slowed markedly in the last few years, potentially peaking, but its future trajectory remains uncertain.”
China posted the biggest change in CO2 emission in 2018 compared to 2017 with a substantial increase in both energy consumption and emissions, the Jackson researchers said.
One thing is certain, according to a study by energy consultant Wood Mackenzie, fossil fuel use isn’t “disappearing any time soon.”
Wood Mackenzie did an analysis looking at the implementation of “carbon-constrained polices”—such as increasing renewable energy and electrifying the motor vehicle fleet.
It calculated fossil fuels would still account for 75 percent of global energy in 2040, down from 85 percent in 2012. All the carbon-constraining policies reduced the fossil fuel share by just a few percentage points.
“Oil, in particular, retains a keystone role in the energy system for decades to come,” Wood Mackenzie said.
In 2018, one of the “most surprising” increases was a jump in oil used in the U.S. and the EU, where oil demand was believed to have peaked several years ago, the Jackson paper said.
“Despite improved fuel efficiency, these increases are driven by more vehicles and, in some countries, distance driven per vehicle,” the paper said.
The number of motor vehicles has been growing at about 4 percent a year globally, and while the number of electric vehicles has doubled to 4 million, it remains a tiny fraction of the 1.2 billion motor vehicles in the world.
Natural gas will also see a growth in demand through 2040, mainly in emerging markets such as China, India and Southeast Asia, Wood Mackenzie said. The Asia-Pacific is projected to account for 60 percent of incremental demand.
Natural gas has been the fastest-growing fossil fuel, increasing at 2 percent a year rate since 2012, the Jackson researchers said.
“Although natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, it is still a major source of the global increase in CO2 emissions,” the Jackson paper said. “In countries such as the United States, some of this growth has come at the expense of coal as a fuel for electricity generation, reducing CO2 emissions as a result.”
Natural gas use has grown in every region of the world over the past five years with the increase in energy consumption, the researchers said.
“Coal however will bear the brunt of an accelerated energy transition, with demand declining by half by 2040, even with no international CO2 pricing regime as the power sector switches to gas and renewables,” the Wood Mackenzie analysis said.
While there have sharp declines in the use of coal in Canada, the U.S. and the EU, there has been a 3 percent annual increase in coal consumption in the Asia-Pacific and Central and South America over the last decade, the Jackson paper said. The coal consumption in India has been growing at a 4.3 percent annual rate.
“A robust global economy, insufficient emission reductions in developed countries, and a need for increased energy use in developing countries where per capita emissions remain far below those of wealthier nations will continue to put upward pressure on CO2 emissions,” the Jackson researchers concluded.
In Wood Mackenzie’s 2040 “accelerated decarbonization” scenario—with wind and solar providing 40 percent of all energy, oil demand having peaked in 2031, electric vehicles accounting for 100 percent of all new motor vehicles and 22 million autonomous vehicles on the road—fossil fuels still represent the lion’s share of energy.
“Even with an accelerated pace of change, a ‘2-degree world’ remains out of reach in our accelerated scenario,” David Brown, a senior Wood Mackenzie analyst, said in a statement. “Much more needs to happen around lowering non-power sector emissions to achieve such an outcome. Political momentum will be crucial and at present climate leadership is lacking.”