Carbon emissions from the global energy industry rose by the fastest rate in almost a decade in 2018 after surprise swings in global temperatures stoked extra demand for fossil fuels.
BP’s annual global energy report revealed for the first time that fluctuating temperatures are increasing the world’s use of fossil fuels in spite of efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
The recorded temperature swings – days which are much hotter or colder than normal – helped drive the world’s biggest jump in gas consumption for more than 30 years.
They also stoked a second consecutive annual increase for coal use, reversing three years of decline earlier this decade.
Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist, warned that the report reveals “a growing mismatch” between society’s rising demand for climate action and the actual pace of progress.
“At a time when society is increasingly concerned about climate change and the need for action energy demand and emissions are growing at their fastest rate for years,” he said.
Carbon emissions climbed by 2% last year, faster than any year since 2011, because the demand for energy easily oustripped the rapid rollout of renewable energy.
Two-thirds of the world’s energy demand increase was due to higher demand in China, India and the US which was in part due to stronger industry as well as the “weather effect”.
This was spurred by an “outsized” energy appetite in the US which recorded the highest number of days with hotter or colder than average days since the 1950s.
“On hot days people turn to their air conditioning and fans, on cold days they turn to their heaters. That has a big impact,” Dale said.
The unusually high number of “heating days” has continued in the first months of this year.
The combined number of particularly hot and cold days was unusually high in the US, China and Russia where the use of fossil fuels remains high.
The US shale heartlands helped to meet its rising energy demand with the biggest annual increase in oil and gas production for any country ever.
Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, said: “The longer carbon emissions continue to rise, the harder and more costly will be the necessary eventual adjustment to net-zero carbon emissions.”
“As I have said before, this is not a race to renewables, but a race to reduce carbon emissions across many fronts,” he added.
The report acknowledges that emissions might have been higher without the “extraordinary growth” of renewables, which climbed by 14.5% last year, but warns against relying on green power and electric vehicles.
Last year’s growth in emissions represents the carbon equivalent of driving an extra 400m combustion engine cars onto the world’s roads, according to Dale. Meanwhile, electric vehicles rose by just 2m, to a total of 5m.
Dale added that the growth in renewables would need to have climbed by more than twice the rate achieved over the past three years to offset the impact of burning coal for electricity.
“Alternatively, the same outcome for carbon emissions could have been achieved by replacing around 10% of coal in the power sector with natural gas,” he said.
BP owns vast reserves of gas fields and consistently leads calls for countries to switch from coal to gas.
It has also backed industry calls for governments to fund carbon capture technology which can scrub the emissions from the flues of power plants and factories before they reach the air.
However, BP will not undertake “material” projects without government funding.
“You can’t rely on the generosity of the private sector,” Dale said.