Third consecutive year without carbon emission growth

South Africa's economy remains one of the most energy-inefficient in the world. That means it uses more energy to create a unit of GDP than its peers. (Katherine Muick-Mere/Sunday Times/Gallo)

South Africa's economy remains one of the most energy-inefficient in the world. That means it uses more energy to create a unit of GDP than its peers. (Katherine Muick-Mere/Sunday Times/Gallo)

Global carbon emissions have remained flat for the third consecutive year, according to the 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

This follows a 2.5% annual growth in each of the 10 years before emissions stalled. That had continued a link that has held true for much of industrial human history; the more energy that is consumed, the more economies grow.

But energy use last year grew by 1%, while global gross domestic product grew by 3%. And even the small growth of energy use did not come with increased carbon emissions.

The annual BP report, a respected accounting of global energy use, said much of this is down to a fundamental change in the energy that countries are using, and how efficient they are at using it.

Coal use is dropping globally, with a 5.9% reduction last year. The report noted that “the fortunes of coal appear to have taken a decisive break from the past”.

In the United States, coal use is back to the same levels that it was in the 1970s. Much of that drop is down to the country shifting to cheaper natural gas. A similar drop in Chinese coal consumption has meant carbon emissions there have dropped for the last two years, after growing 75% in the decade before that.

The most remarkable shift has been in the United Kingdom, which kicked off the Industrial Revolution (and manmade global warming) by burning coal. Its last three underground coal mines closed in the last year. Coal consumption is now back to where it was 200 years ago. In April, that country had its first day where all of its energy was produced without burning coal.

The BP report says all of this global change has been down to “the increasing availability and competitiveness of natural gas and renewable energy, combined with mounting government and societal pressure to shift away from coal towards cleaner, lower-carbon fuels”.

Renewable energy sources were responsible for a third of all new energy in the last year, but still only make up 4% of the global energy mix. But BP said that, with their 16% annual growth, renewables will overtake nuclear by 2019 in terms of how much energy they produce.

This will be coupled with ever-increasing energy efficiency to cut deeply into the market share of fossil fuel energy sources, such as coal fired power plants.

South Africa is a rare example of this not happening, with the economy remaining one of the most energy-inefficient in the world. That means it uses more energy to create a unit of GDP than its peers. That in turn costs more money, and means more carbon emissions.

Globally, coal and other fossil fuels are still king. Their 85% share of the world energy mix is has only dropped 9% in the last half a century. But the rate of it losing out to other energy sources is increasing.

Sipho Kings

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