Energy demand around the world grew by 2.3% over the past year, marking the most rapid increase in a decade, according to the report from the IEA. Fossil fuels filled nearly 70%

Several publications report on the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s latest annual report on global carbon emissions. The Washington Post focuses on the “grim findings”, which show “that not only are planet-warming CO2 emissions still increasing, but the world’s growing thirst for energy has led to higher emissions from coal-fired power plants than ever before”.

The Post adds: “Energy demand around the world grew by 2.3% over the past year, marking the most rapid increase in a decade, according to the report from the IEA. To meet that demand, largely fuelled by a booming economy, countries turned to an array of sources, including renewables. But nothing filled the void quite like fossil fuels, which satisfied nearly 70% of the skyrocketing electricity demand, according to the agency, which analyses energy trends on behalf of 30 member countries, including the US.”

The Guardian also leads with the news that “global coal use is up”, adding that the “young fleet of coal-fired power plants in Asia account[s] for a large proportion of the increase”. It adds: “Asia is now responsible for the majority of coal-fired power generation globally, and the average age of power plants there is now just 12 years, meaning they have decades to go before reaching their planned end of production in about 30 to 50 years.

The Guardian also quotes Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director: “We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade. Last year can also be considered another golden year for gas. But despite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts.”

The Financial Times notes that the “growth in emissions last year — 560m tonnes — is equivalent to the entire annual emissions from the aviation sector. It was the second consecutive year of rising emissions, after a period during which CO2 emissions were mostly flat between 2014 and 2016”.

The paper also quotes Birol: “‘It seems like a vicious cycle,’ said Mr Birol, pointing out that in India air conditioning had become a big factor in power demand. ‘Heating and cooling are one of the biggest drivers of energy demand growth.’” Deutsche Welle, Bloomberg and Reuters are among the other outlets reporting the news.

The IEA’s report follows separate analysis by the Global Carbon Project – covered by Carbon Brief last December – which found that “preliminary data showed that output from fossil fuels and industry will grow by around 2.7% in 2018, the largest increase in seven years”.  Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on new Energy Innovation analysis which shows that “around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households”. The newspaper adds: “The study’s authors used public financial filings and data from the Energy Information Agency to work out the cost of energy from coal plants compared with wind and solar options within a 35-mile radius. They found that 211 gigawatts of current US coal capacity, 74% of the coal fleet, is providing electricity that’s more expensive than wind or solar.” The Hill also covers the report.


In Antarctica, we witnessed an ice shelf the size of five Manhattan’s disintegrate in a matter of hours. More than anything else, this journey has reminded me that, thanks largely to the west’s 200 year-long fossil fuel binge, we live in a rapidly changing world now. And those change are likely to come much faster, and with far greater force and power, than most of us can even begin to understand.


A worker walks past coal piles at a coal coking plant in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, China, in January 2018. (William Hong/Reuters)

Global energy experts released grim findings Monday, saying that not only are planet-warming carbon-dioxide emissions still increasing, but the world’s growing thirst for energy has led to higher emissions from coal-fired power plants than ever before.

Energy demand around the world grew by 2.3 percent over the past year, marking the most rapid increase in a decade, according to the report from the International Energy Agency. To meet that demand, largely fueled by a booming economy, countries turned to an array of sources, including renewables.

But nothing filled the void quite like fossil fuels, which satisfied nearly 70 percent of the skyrocketing electricity demand, according to the agency, which analyzes energy trends on behalf of 30 member countries, including the United States.

In particular, a fleet of relatively young coal plants located in Asia, with decades to go on their lifetimes, led the way toward a record for emissions from coal fired power plants — exceeding 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide “for the first time,” the agency said. In Asia, “average plants are only 12 years old, decades younger than their average economic lifetime of around 40 years,” the agency found.

As a result, greenhouse-gas emissions from the use of energy — by far their largest source — surged in 2018, reaching an record high of 33.1 billion tons. Emissions showed 1.7 percent growth, well above the average since 2010. The growth in global emissions in 2018 alone was “equivalent to the total emissions from international aviation,” the body found.

Monday’s report underscores an unnerving truth about the world’s collective efforts to combat climate change: Even as renewable energy rapidly expands, many countries — including the United States and China — are nevertheless still turning to fossil fuels to satisfy ever-growing energy demand.

“Very worrisome” is how Michael Mehling, deputy director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described Monday’s findings.

“To me, all this reflects the fact that climate policies around the globe, despite some limited pockets of progress, remain woefully inadequate,” he said in an email. “They’re not even robust enough to offset the increased emissions from economic expansion, especially in the developing world, let alone to spur decarbonization at levels commensurate with the temperature stabilization goals we’ve committed to under the Paris Agreement.”

Mehling questioned whether the Paris climate agreement — the 2015 global accord in which countries vowed to slash their carbon emissions — has the capacity to compel nations to live up to their promises and ramp up climate action over time.

“This will require overcoming the persistent barriers that have prevented greater progress in the past,” Mehling said.

Why the world still uses coal
Overcoming those barriers is complicated, as the agency report makes clear.

China, for instance, satisfied a demand for more energy last year with some new generation from renewables. But it relied far more on natural gas, coal and oil. In India, about half of all new demand was similarly met by coal-fired power plants.

In the United States, by contrast, coal is declining — but most of the increase in demand for energy in this country was nonetheless fueled by the burning of natural gas, rather than renewable energy. Natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal does when it is burned, but it’s still a fossil fuel and still causes significant emissions.

Granted, there’s some slight good news in the new report, in that as renewables and natural gas have grown, coal has a smaller share of the energy pie overall.

Yet the fact that it’s still growing strongly contradicts what scientists have said about what’s needed to curb climate warming. In a major report last year the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that global emissions would have to be cut nearly in half, by 2030, to preserve a chance of holding the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

That would require extremely fast annual reductions in emissions — but instead, the world is still marking record highs.

And when it comes to coal use, that same report found that to limit temperatures to 1.5 degrees C, it would have to decline by as much as 78 percent in just over 10 years. Again, coal emissions are still rising.

Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, said the substantial growth of wind and solar energy detailed in Monday’s report was overshadowed by the world’s ongoing reliance on fossil fuels.

“The growth in fossils is still greater than all the increases in renewables,” Jackson said, adding that few countries are living up to the pledges they made as part of the Paris climate accord. “What’s discouraging is that emissions in the U.S. and Europe are going up, too. Someone has to decrease their emissions significantly for us to have any hope of meeting the Paris commitments.”

The new results dash earlier hopes that global emissions might be flattening and starting to decline. From 2014 through 2016, they fell slightly, and coal emissions in particular dipped as well. But with a renewal of growth in 2017 and record highs in 2018, turning the corner on emissions remains nowhere in sight.

As a result, optimism from earlier this decade has largely faded. International efforts to combat climate change have struggled to maintain momentum and the U.S. government has undergone a reversal of priorities.

“We are in deep trouble,” Jackson said of Monday’s findings. “The climate consequences are catastrophic. I don’t use any word like that very often. But we are headed for disaster, and nobody seems to be able to slow things down.”

By Somini Sengupta, Photographs by Charlotte de la Fuente, 

COPENHAGEN — Can a city cancel out its greenhouse gas emissions?

Copenhagen intends to, and fast. By 2025, this once-grimy industrial city aims to be net carbon neutral, meaning it plans to generate more renewable energy than the dirty energy it consumes.

Here’s why it matters to the rest of the world: Half of humanity now lives in cities, and the vast share of planet-warming gases come from cities. The big fixes for climate change need to come from cities too. They are both a problem and a potential source of solutions.

The experience of Copenhagen, home to 624,000 people, can show what’s possible, and what’s tough, for other urban governments on a warming planet.

The mayor, Frank Jensen, said cities “can change the way we behave, the way we are living, and go more green.” His city has some advantages. It is small, it is rich and its people care a lot about climate change.

Mr. Jensen said mayors, more than national politicians, felt the pressure to take action. “We are directly responsible for our cities and our citizens, and they expect us to act,” he said.

In the case of Copenhagen, that means changing how people get around, how they heat their homes, and what they do with their trash. The city has already cut its emissions by 42 percent from 2005 levels, mainly by moving away from fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity.

Politics, though, is making it hard to go further. A municipal government can only do so much when it doesn’t have the full support of those who run the country. Mr. Jensen, 57, a left-of-center Social Democrat, for instance, has failed to persuade the national government, led by a center-right party, to impose restrictions on diesel-guzzling vehicles in the capital. Transportation accounts for a third of the city’s carbon footprint; it is the largest single sector and it is growing.

By contrast, the national government, in a move that its critics say encouraged private car use, has lowered car-registration taxes. The transportation minister, Ole Birk Olesen, said the government wanted to reduce what he called “the over-taxation of cars,” though he added that, ideally, Danes would buy only zero-emissions cars in the coming decades.

And so, Copenhagen’s goal to be carbon neutral faces a hurdle that is common around the world: a divide between the interests of people who live in cities and those who live outside.

A suburban commuter train. A new subway line, scheduled to open this year, will put most residents less than half a mile from a station.

Many opposition politicians and independent analysts say they doubt Copenhagen can meet its 2025 target, and some critics say the plan focuses too much on trying to balance the city’s carbon books rather than change the way people actually live.

“We run around in fossil fuel burning cars, we eat a lot of meat, we buy a hell of a lot of clothes,” said Fanny Broholm, a spokeswoman for Alternativet, a left-of-center green party. “The goal is not ambitious enough as it is, and we can’t even reach this goal.”

Mr. Jensen, for his part, is bullish on what he calls the capital’s “green transformation.” City officials say this is only the start.

A new Metro line, scheduled to open this year, will put the vast majority of the city’s residents within 650 meters, a bit less than half a mile, of a station. Bicycle paths are already three lanes wide on busy routes for the whopping 43 percent of Copenhageners who commute to work and school by bike — even on wet, windy days, which are plentiful.

where excavations for a new Metro station recently turned up the remains of two Vikings. We crossed a bicycle bridge that led to a once-industrial district, now home to trendy restaurants.

As we rode, Mr. Jensen talked about parliamentary polls set for this spring. “Elections will come up in the next few months, and a lot of people living in the suburbs still have diesel cars,” he said. “It’s a political challenge. It’s not a technological challenge.”

For Copenhagen, the path to carbon neutrality is paved with imperfect solutions..

Then, there’s garbage. The city recently opened a $660 million incinerator, 85 meters tall, or about 280 feet, resembling a shiny half-built pyramid, with an even taller stack. It’s just a short walk from one of the city’s most popular restaurants, Noma. Designed by one of the country’s best-known architects, Bjarke Ingels, it comes with a year-round ski slope to attract visitors (and recoup some of the expenses). The mayor was one of the first to take a test run.

Every day, 300 trucks bring garbage to be fed into its enormous furnace, including trash imported from Britain. That has a carbon footprint, too. But the chief engineer, Peter Blinksbjerg, pointed out that instead of going into a landfill, the rubbish of modern life is transformed into something useful: heat for the city’s long, cold winters.

The Arc incinerator, right, with its year-round ski slope visible on the roof. The stack releases steam, not smoke.
Scrubbers remove most chemical pollutants before releasing steam into the air. By summer, a cafe is set to open in the shadow of the stack.

Pedaling through the city these days, it is difficult to imagine what Copenhagen once looked like. There were factories in the narrow streets and ships in the oil-stained harbor. Coal-fired power plants brought electricity. The air was smoggy. A generation of city dwellers moved out to the clean-air suburbs.

Today, even on wintry, wet days, commuters move along a busy bike highway that connects the warrens of the oldest part of the city, where some buildings date to the 1400s, to the northern neighborhoods, whizzing past the stately apartment blocks that overlook the lake. The bike lane is slightly elevated above the car lane, which feels safer than just a white line that demarcates bike lanes in many other cities.

Inside a cozy neighborhood cafe, a medical student named Mariam Hleihel said she welcomed Mr. Jensen’s efforts to reduce the number of polluting cars in the city. “If we don’t do anything about it now, the consequences could be irreversible,” she said.

Morning commuters on the Dronning Louises Bro, a bridge in central Copenhagen.

The Dronning Louises Bro, a bridge in central Copenhagen.

She reflected a widespread sentiment among Danes. A 2018 survey by Concito, a think tank, found that addressing climate change was a top issue for voters. Slightly more than half of those polled said they would need to change their way of life to tackle global warming.

Simone Nordfalk, a cashier at a bountiful outdoor vegetable market, considered the prospect of changing eating habits for the sake of climate change. Figs had been shipped in from Brazil. Strawberries from Spain. It would be tough to return to how Danes ate a generation ago. “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” she said. “It sells.”

Copenhagen is girding itself for the impact of climate change, too. The rains are more intense, and the sea is rising. In the most vulnerable neighborhoods, the city is creating new parks and ponds for water to collect before it can drain out. There are new dikes by the harbor, and a proposal to build a new island in the northeast to block storm surges.

Politically speaking, public apprehension about climate change may be the strongest wind in the mayor’s sails.

“People are honestly concerned about it,” said Klaus Bondam, a former politician and now head of a bicyclists’ lobby. “You are an extremely tone deaf politician if you don’t hear that.”

A tough climb on the morning commute.

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