Robert Rapier | Forbes | 19 June 2016
As I noted in a previous article on the recently-released 2016 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, the world set a new all-time high for fossil fuel consumption in 2015. This was driven by new global consumption records for petroleum and natural gas.
However, global coal consumption did decline by 1% in 2015. In fact, 2015 marked the largest year-over-year decline in coal demand since 1965, the first year the BP Review began tracking energy statistics.
How bad was 2015 for the coal industry? Since 1965, annual coal demand has only declined by over 50 million metric tons of oil equivalent (MMtoe) twice. Following the financial crisis of 2008 demand fell by just over 50 MMtoe (in 2009), and then in 2015 demand fell by a record 71.3 MMtoe:
China remained the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal (50% of the global total), but China’s coal demand has now declined for two straight years. China’s 29 MMtoe demand decline in 2015 was the largest on record, and was the result of flat electrical demand, higher production of renewable power, an increase in natural gas consumption, and a huge increase in nuclear power (+29%) production. The U.S. has long been the world’s 2nd largest consumer of coal, but huge demand declines for coal last year — the largest in the world at 57 MMtoe — dropped the U.S. to 3rd place (now behind India) among the world’s coal consumers.
Nevertheless, global carbon dioxide emissions set a new all-time record high in 2015. Carbon dioxide emissions in 2015 were 36 million metric tons higher than in 2014, and marked the 6th straight year a new record high has been set. But there were a couple of positive notes in the carbon dioxide emission numbers. The first is that carbon dioxide emission growth seems to be slowing. 2015 marked the 2nd straight year that the increasein emissions was smaller than the year before. Carbon dioxide emissions in 2013 were 505 million tons higher than in 2012, but then 2014 and 2015 respectively saw increases of 224 million tons and 36 million tons.
But the second positive note in the numbers is that the U.S. continues to lead the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In 2015, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions fell by 145 million tons, by far the largest decline of any country in the world. In comparison, Russia was in 2nd place with a decline of 64 million tons from 2014. On the other end of the spectrum was India, which led the world with a 112 million ton increase in carbon dioxide emissions from 2014. China, which has now spent a decade as the world’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide, saw a 12 million decline in emissions from 2014, its first decline in nearly 20 years. Cumulatively, growth in India and China has resulted in explosive growth in carbon dioxide emissions for the Asia Pacific region, which are quickly approaching double the total emissions of the U.S. and the European Union:
The U.S. also leads the world in reducing carbon emissions for the most recent 5- and 10-year periods. Over the past 5 years U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 270 million tons. In 2nd place for that period was the UK, with a 93 million ton decline. Over the most recent 5-year period, China led the world with a 1.1 billion ton increase. India was in 2nd place with a 540 million ton increase.
For the most recent 10-year period, U.S. emissions declined by 622 million tons. This represents a 10% decline in carbon dioxide emissions over that time period. Once more, the UK was in 2nd place for this time period with a decline of 139 million tons (down 24% over the decade). China led all countries with an increase of 3.1 billion tons, which represented a 51% increase in China’s carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade. India was again in 2nd place with a gain of 1.0 billion tons, but its growth rate for emissions was higher at 83% for the decade.
Why have U.S. emissions fallen so sharply? There are several factors. In 2015 overall demand for energy in the U.S. fell by 20 MMtoe. This consisted of a 57 MMtoe decline in coal demand, which was partially offset by a 14 MMtoe increase in oil demand and a 21 MMtoe increase in natural gas demand (which is in many cases directly replacing coal in the power sector). Renewables chipped in an additional 5 MMtoe of demand. So, power companies switching from coal to natural gas made the single biggest contribution toward lower emissions in the U.S. in 2015, with lower overall consumption making the 2nd largest contribution.