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Global carbon emissions hit record high

Global energy-related carbon emissions reached a record high in 2018 as worldwide energy demand and coal use surged mostly from power plants in Asia.

PARIS (AN) — Global energy-related carbon emissions reached a record high in 2018 as worldwide energy demand and coal use surged mostly from power plants in Asia, the International Energy Agency reported.

Energy-related CO2 emissions rose 1.7% to 33.1 billion tons from the previous year, the highest rate of growth since 2013. The power sector accounted for almost two-thirds of that growth, according to the IEA report.

But almost a fifth of the increase in global energy demand came from higher demand for heating and cooling, IEA said, as average winter and summer temperatures in some places approached or exceeded historical records.

The United States’ CO2 emissions, which declined in the previous year, grew 3.1% in 2018, compared with China’s emissions, which rose 2.5%, and India’s emissions, up 4.5%. Europe’s emissions fell 1.3%, and Japan’s fell for the fifth straight year.

China, the United States and India together accounted for 85% of the world's net emissions growth — and nearly 70% of the rise in energy demand around the world.

The report — yet another alert to the huge gap between nations' climate ambitions and reality — included Paris-based IEA's first assessment of fossil fuel burning on global temperature rise.

Almost 200 nations agreed on a set of rules in December for accomplishing the 2015 Paris Agreement, spelling out how countries must report carbon emissions and pay for climate action. The United Nations-brokered treaty seeks to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible.

But the world’s average temperatures have already increased 1 degree C. since pre-industrial levels, so the real choice for the world is whether to allow the planet to heat up by a half-degree or 1 degree C. more. And the gap between nations’ goals and what they are doing to address the problem is wider than ever, U.N. Environment said in its latest assessment of targets and policies for cutting CO2 emissions.

IEA found carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants were the "single largest source" of global warming, accounting for more than 0.3 degrees of the nearly 1 degree C. rise in global average temperatures since the pre-industrial era.

"The majority of coal-fired generation capacity today is found in Asia, with 12-year-old plants on average, decades short of average lifetimes of around 50 years," IEA said.

The energy mix

IEA’s Executive Director Fatih Birol, a Turkish economist and energy expert, said the past year brought an extraordinary increase in global energy demand, growing at its fastest pace this decade, and it was "another golden year for gas," accounting for almost half of that growth.

"But despite major growth in renewables," he said in a statement, "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, utilization and storage.”

Demand for all fuels increased. Fossil fuels met almost 70% of the growth in demand for the second year in a row. Natural gas use, particularly strong in the United States and China, accounted for 45% of the rise in energy consumption.

China was the leader in renewable energies such as wind and solar, followed by Europe and the United States.

The United States had the largest increase in oil and gas demand worldwide, with gas consumption rising 10% from the previous year — an amount equal to all of Britain's gas consumption.

Global gas demand expanded at its fastest rate since 2010, the report found, with a year-on-year growth of 4.6%.

Oil demand grew 1.3% worldwide, it said, with the United States again leading the global increase for the first time in 20 years due to expansion of petrochemicals, rising industrial production and trucking services. Global coal consumption rose 0.7%. Increasing use occurred only in Asia, particularly in China, India and some nations in South and Southeast Asia.

Nuclear power grew 3.3%, mainly due to new reactors in China and the restarting of four reactors in Japan. Globally, nuclear plants met 9% of the increase in electricity demand.