Greenhouse gas emissions from the global energy industry rose 1.4 per cent in 2017, marking the first rise in three years, according to new data released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The IEA said the uptick in emissions was fuelled by a 2.1 per cent growth in global energy demand last year – more than double the pace of 2016 – which was driven by strong economic growth in fast-developing economies such as China and India.
Some 70 per cent of energy demand growth was met by oil, coal and natural gas, while improvements in energy efficiency slowed from a rate of 2.3 per cent a year over the last three years to 1.7 per cent last year.
As a result the global energy sector broke from the three-year trend of flat emissions across the industry.
The news will come as a major blow to global climate efforts following several years in which hopes had been fuelled that global emissions had peaked.
Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said that although renewables made “impressive strides” over the last 12 months, in general efforts to tackle global warming must be stepped up.
“The significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient,” he said. “For example, there has been a dramatic slowdown in the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency as policy makers have put less focus in this area.”
While global emissions ticked up, there were a handful of economies that managed to deliver economic growth and falling emissions, notably the US, UK, and Japan, the IEA noted. The biggest drop was recorded in the US, where emissions fell by 0.5 per cent as energy demand shrank and new renewable generation came online.
But overall the update paints a bleak picture for global efforts to deliver the rapid cuts to carbon emissions that are deemed necessary by politicians and scientists to avert dangerous global warming.
For the last three years emissions from energy demand have remained flat, even while the global economy has grown at a rate of two to three per cent, prompting hopes that emissions and economic growth may have permanently decoupled.
The news this is not the case will feel like a step back for many businesses and campaigners, and will dent hopes that governments around the world will live up to their promise of limiting warming to well below two degrees.
In related news, the United Nations today provided a sobering update on the likely impacts of escalating climate change.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) confirmed 2016 as the hottest year on record, with 2015 and 2017 tying for second place. It added that 2018 is on track to continue the trend, with extreme weather already delivering freezing temperatures and heavy snow across Europe while temperatures in the Arctic soared.
It follows reports from German insurer Munich Re which earlier this year confirmed 2017 as the most expensive year for disaster losses from weather and climate events, with the total bill for the year stretching into $320bn.
Separately, a new study from the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council suggested heacy rain and flooding globally has risen 50 per cent over the past decade, while the World Bank issued a stark warning that climate impacts could trigger the migration of 140 million people by 2050.
Campaigners will now be hoping this week’s onslaught of bleak news will focus the minds of policymakers to strengthen carbon reduction efforts, ahead of a crunch climate summit in New York next year.