The Two Key Reasons the World Can’t Reverse Climate Emissions
New figures show we’re using more energy and still pumping out more emissions—so why aren’t we moving the dial?
Global energy demand and related carbon emissions both rose again in 2018, according to new figures out this week.
This comes as no surprise. The analysis from the International Energy Agency is in line with other preliminary reports from other organizations. But it raises an awkward question: if renewables are growing and the prices of solar, wind, and batteries are falling, why is the world’s climate pollution still going up?
The first answer is the growing global economy, which pushed energy demand up by 2.3% last year, the IEA says. A contributing factor was that more energy was needed for extra heating and cooling in regions hit by unusually severe cold snaps and heatwaves. These were at least partly driven by our shifting climate. All of that drove increases in generation from coal and natural gas, both of which spew greenhouse gases that warm the planet.
Ultimately, those fossil fuel increases outpaced sharp improvements in solar and wind generation, both of which climbed by double digits in 2018. Even nuclear generation grew at modest levels, rising 3.3%, mainly due to new turbines in China and four reactors that went back online in Japan, according to the IEA.
But figures deeper in the report highlight a systemic issue that’s preventing us from driving down emissions in a consistent way.
From 2000 to 2018, while the portion of global electricity generation from solar and wind grew by 7%, nuclear declined by the same percentage. Meanwhile, coal only dipped by 1% over that time, while natural gas, which emits just more than half as much carbon dioxide, climbed from 18% to 23%.
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