The world’s demand for energy grew by 2.1 per cent in 2017, more than twice the previous year’s rate, according to new data from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In its Global Energy & CO2 Status Report 2017, released this week, the IEA noted that 2016’s 0.9 per cent demand growth had been consistent with the previous five-year average.

Boosted by strong economic growth, China and India accounted for over 40 per cent of last year’s rise in demand, 72 per cent of which was met by oil, gas and coal. Renewables contributed 25 per cent and the remainder was supplied by nuclear power.

Electricity generation increased by 3.1 per cent, significantly faster than overall energy demand, with India and China collectively accounting for 70 per cent of the global increase. 

Global demand for natural gas grew by 3 per cent in 2017, with the fuel accounting for a record 22 per cent of the world’s energy demand due largely to its increased availability and relatively low cost. Interestingly, over 80 per cent of this demand growth came from industry and buildings, which overtook the power sector as the top gas consumers for the first time in a decade. 

Meanwhile, demand for coal grew by 1 per cent, reversing the previous two years’ downward trend, due largely to an increase in coal-fired power generation in Asia. And nuclear generation grew by 3 per cent in 2017, accounting for 10 per cent of global power production although significant new capacity additions barely made up for retirements.

The big winners among fuels were renewables, which met one-quarter of global energy demand growth. This rise was led by China and the US, which together contributed half of the increase, followed by the EU, India and Japan. Wind power was the winner among renewable fuels, covering 36 per cent of demand growth. And renewables-based electricity generation rose 6.3 per cent, driven by growth in the wind, solar and hydropower sectors.

However, the news was generally bad for global energy-related CO2 emissions, which grew by 1.4 per cent in 2017 after three flat years, reaching a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes.

Part of the problem, the report said, was that progress on global energy efficiency slowed “dramatically” in 2017 due to a drop in both policy coverage and stringency, as well as lower energy prices. The world’s energy intensity improved by just 1.7 per cent in 2017 compared with an average of 2.3 per cent over the previous three years.

According to the report, global emissions will need to peak soon and decline sharply to 2020 if the world’s long-term climate goals are to be met. But the IEA warned that the necessary decline will now need to be even greater given that 2017’s emissions intensity improved by less than one-third of what would be needed.

The share of low-carbon energy sources must increase by 1.1 percentage points every year, the IEA said, or more than five times 2017’s growth. In the power sector, generation from renewable sources would need to increase by an average of 700 TWh per year, or 80 per cent more than the 380 TWh increase found in 2017.

There was some good news though, with the IEA noting that some major economies saw a decline in CO2 emissions, including the US, UK, Mexico and Japan. The US led the way in reducing carbon emissions due to its increased deployment of renewables.

IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol put the problem starkly. “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 policymakers have put less focus in this area.”

The full report may be accessed here. Graphics credit: International Energy Agency