Global carbon emissions remained flat for the third year in a row, driven by a globally weak demand for energy and a cleaner energy mix, according to the latest edition of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, published incongruously enough by British multinational oil and gas company, BP.
While it might seem strange to be so interested in BP’s Statistical Review, it is in fact the 66th edition of the Review, and has long provided a very accurate interpretation of the current trend of world energy. The 2017 edition of the Review reveals that global carbon emissions only grew by 0.1% in 2016, marking the third year in a row that recorded flat or falling emissions, and the lowest three-year average for emissions growth since 1981-83. At the root of the recent plateau are weak energy demand growth and a cleaner energy mix thanks to the increasing share of renewable energy.
Importantly, however, we are still working on relatively small data sets — it is only three years, and we are not sure yet whether this trend will continue.
“While welcome, it is not yet clear how much of this break from the past is structural and will persist,” explained Bob Dudley, BP Group Chief Executive. “We need to keep up our focus and efforts on reducing carbon emissions. BP supports the aims set out in the COP21 Paris meetings and is committed to playing our part to help achieve them.”
As mentioned, energy demand also saw weak growth, increasing by only 1% in 2016, part of a longer plateau that saw energy demand grow only 0.9% in 2015 and 1% in 2014 — compared with a 10-year average of 1.8% per year. Growth was below average in all global regions except in Europe & Eurasia, and all fuels except oil and nuclear power grew at below-average rates.
The highlight success story from 2016, however, is unsurprisingly China. Energy consumption in China grew by only 1.3% in 2016, and growth between 2015 and 2016 was the lowest over a two-year period since 1997-98. A dramatic decline in the use of coal also helped global coal use fall by 1.7%. Chinese coal production fell by 7.9% in 2016, while the price of steam coal increased by over 60%. China also enforced measures that restricted coal mines to operate for a maximum of 276 days of a year.
Unsurprisingly, this had a massive impact on the global coal markets, which saw global coal consumption fall by 53 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe), or 1.7% — the second annual decline in a row. The United States also contributed to this decline, with coal consumption falling by 33 mtoe, while coal consumption in the UK more than halved, down 12 mtoe, or 52.5%.
All of this led to coal accounting for its lowest share of global primary energy consumption since 2004, down to only 28.1%.
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