How the World is Addressing its Spiralling Carbon Emissions Problem

A study conducted by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has revealed that global energy use could potentially increase up to 50% between 2018 and 2050. The data also shows that developing Asian nations will be using up much more energy due to increasing demand.


The International Energy Agency (IEA) also released data regarding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which reached record levels with a 1.7% increase in 2018. This was aggravated by a rise in energy consumption worldwide, which at 23% was nearly double the average growth rate since 2010.


These figures and more should prompt discussions between economically outstanding nations and members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to curb the issues created by the world’s carbon emissions.


IEA: record-high carbon emissions


The 1.7% increase in global CO2 emissions in 2018 amounts to 33 gigatonnes (Gt), and it is mostly caused by coal utilisation in power generation (>10Gt). Coal accounts for one-third of the overall increase, which can be attributed to recently established coal-fueled plants in Asia.


The rise in carbon emissions itself is attributed to an increase in the world’s power consumption. Electricity contributes a 20% share in the final energy use.


Nearly a fifth of the growing global energy demand comes from cooling and heating, since average temperatures during winter and summer can reach record-breaking levels in some regions across the globe.


The US, India, and China accounted for almost 70% of the worldwide energy demand, with the US overtaking other nations in gas and oil requirements.


In 2018, natural gas surpassed other fuel choices to enable the generation of 45% of the world’s energy demand. All fuel needs have increased, and fossil fuels contributed 70% of the demand’s growth for two consecutive years.

Reducing emissions

As for the expansion and proliferation of power generating facilities, renewable energy has become a significant contributor, covering half of the growth in power demand. China leads the green energy race with her solar and wind facilities, closely followed by the US and Europe.


The trend in renewable energy has helped avoid 215Mt of CO2 emissions, mainly due to advocating for green energy in industry. According to the IEA, Europe and China contribute two-thirds of the total savings made from renewable energy.


Nuclear power stations also increased in power generation, which led to an almost 60Mt reduction in carbon emissions.


Based on the report, we can see that if low carbon sources weren’t promoted in 2018, the emissions total would have grown to become double the levels that we see today. Methods involving energy efficiency and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) stations in 2018 also helped curb carbon emissions by a significant amount.


However, global carbon emissions are still on the rise, so prompt action – such as creating clean energy solutions and promoting innovation and investments to build facilities that help cut emissions – is still needed.


Swelling global energy demand


Energy consumption around the world has seen a 50% increase since 2018, and another such increase could happen by 2050 due to economy-driven demand in developing countries, particularly those in Asia.


Throughout this projection, the industrial sector is expected to consume half of the energy generated. This sector includes manufacturing, mining, refining, construction, and agriculture. It is forecasted to increase by 30% due to a rise in the use of goods. By 2050, that growth is anticipated to amount to about 315-quadrillion British thermal units (or ‘Btu’).


The Energy Outlook 2019 report published by the EIA shows that transportation consumption will experirnce a 40% increase. It is expected that the transport energy use of non-OECD nations’ will account for almost 80% of the demand by 2050.


The commercial and residential building sector will rise by 65% and reach 139-quadrillion Btu, likely caused by an increase in urbanisation. In manufacturing South Asia – specifically India – and Africa are looking to shift infrastructure investments and trade patterns due to increased energy consumption in these regions. It is said that in Asia, demand for petroleum and natural gas will exceed supply.


The report shows renewable energy to have the fastest growth as an energy source. Renewable energy generation will reach up to 79% by 2050, driven by the increase in energy consumption.

Tackling inequality in global energy


Over 800 million people in the world do not have electricity, and 2 billion worldwide lack clean cooking facilities, which then forces them to use unsafe alternative sources for cooking fuel, such as animal waste.

While the US and Europe are doing their part to control emissions, energy demand and consumption keep going up in emerging economies, which adds to the challenge of global warming.


Renowned economist Kenneth Rogoff wrote a piece for The Guardian, suggesting an in-depth discussion of the inequality in global energy.


Rogoff cites proposals for a global CO2 emissions tax, which could dissuade nations from undertaking activities that accelerate global warming. Equating the cost of emissions worldwide will unify all measures taken to curb climate change.


Another effective yet expensive way to deal with carbon emissions is for less-developed and emerging nations to buy into the reduction of emissions. For instance, some coal plants in Asia are as young as twelve years old, and phasing them out will take a lot of outside help.


Rogoff further suggests the establishment of a World Carbon Bank to tackle transition issues and grant assistance to less prosperous economies.