Global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions hit a new record last year, with an increase of 1.7% globally.
That was a result of higher energy consumption, which grew by 2.3% – nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010, according to latest figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Emissions reached 33 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2018, with coal use in power generation alone surpassing 10Gt and accounting for a third of the total rise – most of that came from a young fleet of coal plants in Asia.
Electricity continued to position itself as the “fuel of the future”, with global power demand growing by 4% last year and pushing electricity towards a 20% share in total final energy consumption.
Almost a fifth of the increase in global energy demand came from higher demand for heating and cooling as average temperatures in some regions during both summer and winter approached or exceeded historical records.
China, the US and India accounted for nearly 70% of the rise in global energy demand, with the US seeing the largest increase in oil and gas demand.
The annual increase in US demand last year was equivalent to the UK’s current gas consumption.
Natural gas was the fuel of choice in 2018, accounting for 45% of the increase in total energy demand. Demand for all fuels rose, with fossil fuels meetings nearly 70% of the growth for the second year running.
Renewables were also a major contributor to the power generation expansion, accounting for nearly half of the growth in power demand – China remains the leader in green energy, both for wind and solar, followed by Europe and the US.
Increased use of renewables in 2018 had an even greater impact on CO2 emissions, avoiding 215Mt of emissions, the vast majority of which was due to the transition to green energy in the power sector.
The IEA suggests the savings from renewables was led by China and Europe, together contributing two-thirds to the global total.
Increased generation from nuclear power plants also reduced emissions, averting nearly 60Mt of CO2 emissions. Overall, without the transition to low carbon sources of energy in 2018, emissions growth would have been 50% higher, the report adds.
Energy efficiency was the “largest brake” on emissions growth in 2018 but its contribution was around 40% lower than in 2017, largely because of a continued slowdown in implementing energy efficiency policies.
For the first time in almost a decade, there was an increase in plans to develop large-scale carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) facilities in 2018 and by the end of the year, the number of projects operating, under construction or under serious consideration increased to 43.
China is operating a new facility to capture CO2 from natural gas processing for use in enhanced oil recovery and there are five new projects under development in Europe.
IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol said: “We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade. Last year can also be considered another golden year for gas, which accounted for almost half the growth in global energy demand.
“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.”