BP warns that world is on unsustainable path

Article by Amanda Doyle

BP HAS warned of a “worrying vicious cycle” of energy use in its new global energy report, as extreme weather caused a growth in energy use and a subsequent rise in emissions last year.

Global energy consumption grew by 2.9% in 2018, the fastest since 2010, according to the annual BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Oil, gas, and coal accounted for nearly three quarters of the growth in energy demand, leading to a 2% rise in global emissions, the highest emissions rise since 2011.

According to BP, the rise in energy use “appears to be largely due to weather-related effects”. For example, the US saw a greater number of extremely hot or cold days, leading to the increased use of heating or air conditioning. Energy growth in the US alone was 3.5%, the fastest growth in 30 years. 

“Even if these weather effects are short lived, such that the growth in energy demand and carbon emissions slow over the next few years, the recent trends still feel very distant from the types of transition paths consistent with meeting the Paris climate goals,” said Spencer Dale, Group Chief Economist at BP. “Last year’s developments sound yet another warning alarm that the world is on an unsustainable path.”

Natural gas consumption increased by 5.3%, and was the largest contributor to the energy rise, accounting for over 40% of the growth. Oil and coal consumption grew by 1.5% and 1.4% respectively.

Renewable energy grew by 14.5%, a slight drop compared to previous years, but it is still the fastest growing energy source. However, the overall growth in renewables isn’t enough to decarbonise the power sector as it is not growing fast enough to offset growth in energy demand, according to Dale.

“To give a sense of the challenge posed by the strength of growth in power demand: if we focus solely on renewable energy, given the profile of demand growth, to maintain the level of carbon emissions from the power sector at its 2015 level, renewable generation would have needed to grow more than twice as quickly than it actually did: by over 1,800 TWh over the past three years, rather than its actual growth of a little over 800 TWh.”

“Alternatively, the same outcome for carbon emissions could have been achieved by replacing around 10% of coal in the power sector with natural gas. The intuition is that renewables are still a relatively small share of power generation relative to coal, and so the proportional movements in coal are a lot smaller.”

Overall the fossil fuel share of the energy mix declined slightly by 0.4%, dropping to 84.7%, which is the lowest since BP began the statistical energy reviews in 1965, according to an analysis of the report by Carbon Brief. Coal still accounts for the largest share of power generation at 38%, which is the same level as 20 years ago. Renewables contribute just 9.3% to the global power generation mix.

Dale warned of the possibility of a worrying vicious cycle due to “increasing levels of carbon leading to more extreme weather patterns, which in turn trigger stronger growth in energy (and carbon emissions) as households and businesses seek to offset their effects.”

Bob Dudley, Group Chief Executive of BP, said: “The longer carbon emissions continue to rise, the harder and more costly will be the eventual adjustment to net-zero carbon emissions. Yet another year of growing carbon emissions underscores the urgency for the world to change.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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