Record levels of global CO2 in 2018 driven by new Asian coal plants

27 Mar 2019

Image: © Irina K./

Asia’s rush to become the next economic centre of the world has seen it contribute some of the greatest amounts of atmospheric CO2 in 2018.

With any economic growth comes a demand for significantly greater access to energy, and now a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) has shown this to have led to a surge in CO2 emissions globally at record levels.

Energy demand worldwide grew by 2.3pc in 2018, according to the report, making it the fastest pace seen in a decade, largely driven by a resurgent global economy. Seeking out energy sources, many nations turned to natural gas, accounting for almost half of the rise in energy consumption, especially in the US and China.

Future Human

However, while solar and wind grew at double-digit pace – with solar alone seeing a 31pc increase in use – they weren’t adopted as quick, as nations grew hungry for faster energy solutions, specifically coal.

The report found that global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 1.7pc to 33 Gigatonnes (Gt) in 2018, with coal alone accounting for 10Gt. Much of this was traced back to a young fleet of coal power plants in booming Asian nations that have, on average, only been operating for little more than a decade.

Together, China, the US and India accounted for nearly 70pc of the rise in energy demand around the world, with the US’s gas consumption jumping 10pc on the previous year. To put this into perspective, this was the fastest increase seen since IEA records began in 1971, and the increase was equivalent to the UK’s current total gas consumption.

The US also led a 1.3pc global increase in the demand for oil, leading this increase for the first time in 20 years due to its expansion in petrochemicals, rising industrial production and trucking industries.

‘Very worrisome’

Interestingly, nuclear appears to be returning in popularity among nations as well, growing 3.3pc in 2018 to reach pre-Fukushima levels, mainly as a result of new additions in China and the restart of four reactors in Japan. Worldwide, nuclear plants met 9pc of the increase in electricity demand specifically.

“We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“But despite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts – developing all clean energy solutions, curbing emissions, improving efficiency, and spurring investments and innovation, including in carbon capture, utilisation and storage.”

All of this means our attempts to reach targets set out under the Paris Agreement seem even less likely as efforts to switch to renewable energy don’t appear to be outstripping demand for quicker fossil fuel options.

Speaking to The Washington Post, Michael Mehling, the deputy director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at MIT, said the findings were “very worrisome”.

“To me, all this reflects the fact that climate policies around the globe, despite some limited pockets of progress, remain woefully inadequate.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic