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Carbon emissions at historic high

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Carbon emissions at historic high


A global surge in energy demand drove carbon emissions up by 1.7% last year to an historic high of 33.1 Gigatons, according to the International Energy Agency, with the bulk of the climate-changing emissions coming from coal-fired power stations.

The energy demand increased by 2.3% last year, which the IEA said was the fastest increase in a decade. One of the main drivers of the increased energy demand was an increase in the demand for heating and cooling because of extreme weather in many parts of the world.

Average summer and winter temperatures in some parts of the world during 2018 exceeded historical records. Extreme weather was especially severe in the US, causing cooling and heating needs to spike and accounting for about 60% of the emissions increase in 2018, the IEA said. 

The other driver of energy demand was a robust global economy that expanded by 3.8% last year. And for the first time, the IEA’s Global Energy and CO2 Status Report assessed the impact of fossil fuel use on global temperature increases. It found that carbon emissions from coal were responsible for more than 0.3°C of the 1°C increase in the average global temperature above pre-industrial levels. “This make coal the single largest source of global temperature increase,” the report said. 

While carbon emissions increased from all fossil fuels in 2018, the electricity sector accounted for nearly two thirds of the growth in emissions. “Coal-fired electricity generation accounted for 30% of global CO2 emissions. The majority of that generation is found today in Asia, where the average plants are only 12 years old, decades younger that their average lifetime of around 40 years,” the report said. 

China, India and the United States accounted for 85% of the increase in 2018 carbon emissions. Emissions declined Germany, Japan, Mexico, France and the UK. In Europe overall, carbon emissions dropped by 1.3%, driven by a drop of 4.5% in Germany in oil and coal consumption in electricity generation. 

The global demand in all fuels increased, with fossil fuels meeting almost 70% of the growth. While solar and wind generation increased by 31%, the IEA said this was still not fast enough to meet the higher electricity demand around the world. 

Renewables rise

Renewables reached a record high in Europe accounting for 37% of the electricity mix. In the UK, electricity generation from coal fell to a record low of 5%, while renewables rose to a record high of 35%. China’s increased energy demand, which grew by 3.5%, accounted for a third of the global growth. China’s demand grew in all fuels, but with gas in the lead. 

Globally, renewables increased by 4% in 2018, accounting for almost a quarter of the growth in global energy demand. China is the leader in renewables, followed by Europe and the US. 

According to Boston University’s Global Development Policy Centre, the biggest share of China’s overseas energy financing in 2018 was in coal power plants, accounting for 42%.  

Natural disasters

The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency published a report last week advising local governments to start planning for natural disasters caused by climate change. A University of Melbourne study published last week found that the world’s oceans have become stormier in the last 30 years, with increased wave heights and wind speeds recorded in oceans across the globe. This could mean a higher risk for shipping, especially in the southern ocean. 

The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C said while the total number of cyclones is projected to decrease under global warming, the most intense cyclones – categories 4 and 5 – are projected to occur more frequently. 

Mozambique has been hit by two strong tropical cyclones in just over a month, the first time that two cyclones have hit the country in the same season, according to the United Nations. 

In last week’s Cyclone Kenneth, wind speeds gusted up to 280 km/h. Climate change specialists say global warming’s extreme weather will hit the poor countries the hardest, as they have the least resources needed to implement adaptation measures. 

A recent survey done by UK-based climate change think tank E3G of public opinion to foreign investment in energy in six recipient countries of China’s Belt and Road Investment Initiative, found that over 90% of those surveyed in all six countries selected solar energy as the most important for their countries development. Wind energy was the second most popular. All six ranked coal as the lowest priority.


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