Hopes clash with reality on curbing energy use
From schoolchildren across the world walking out of classrooms to demand action on global warming to US Democrats unveiling plans for a “Green New Deal”, campaigns to tackle climate change have gained impetus this year.
“We have seen this huge upswing in really vocal concern about climate change,” says Rachel Kennerley, a campaigner at environmental group Friends of the Earth.
Behind the rise in political campaigning, however, data on energy use paints a different picture. Spencer Dale, group chief economist at oil group BP, says there is a “mismatch between hopes and reality” when it comes to controlling energy demand.
Global energy consumption grew last year at its fastest rate since 2010, as countries including the US suffered a colder than average winter while the use of air conditioning in developed and developing countries continued to rise to cope with hot weather.
Much of this increased demand was met by fossil fuels, particularly gas, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. That pushed global carbon dioxide emissions to a record high of 33bn tonnes.
When economists, campaigners and academics look back on the current period, they will probably “observe a world in which there was growing societal awareness and demands for urgent action on climate change, but where the actual energy data continued to move stubbornly in the wrong direction”, Mr Dale said in a speech last month discussing BP’s annual statistical review.
Even some countries that have set ambitious climate change targets — including the UK, which last month became the first G20 economy to legislate for net zero-carbon emissions by 2050 — are struggling to meet near-term targets for cuts in emissions.