The World Sets a New Carbon Emission Record

For the past 70 years, BP has annually published the Statistical Review of World Energy. Having been a trusted resource for the wider energy sector since its inaugural release in April 1952, the Statistical Review has been instrumental in providing comprehensive data on global oil, gas, and coal production and consumption.

According to a company spokesperson, BP decided to transfer the publication of the report to the Energy Institute (EI) to allow Chief Economist Spencer Dale’s team to prioritize Chief Executive Bernard Looney’s initiatives in transitioning the oil and gas company towards renewables and low-carbon energy, thereby freeing up time and resources.

In late June, the EI published its inaugural version of the report, which is the 72nd Edition of the Statistical Review of World Energy. The full report and all data can be found at this link. Today, I will cover the report’s findings on carbon emissions.

Record High Carbon Emissions

The 2023 Review shows the world remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels for energy needs, even as renewables like solar and wind continue rapid growth.

While renewable power expanded at record rates, fossil fuels maintained an 82% share of total primary energy consumption. Natural gas and coal demand stayed nearly flat with oil rebounding close to pre-pandemic levels.

A year ago, I reported that carbon dioxide emissions had experienced “the fastest growth rate in nearly 50 years.” I further noted “Emissions were only 0.8% short of the all-time high set in 2018. They are on a trajectory to reach a new all-time high in 2022 unless a recession curbs global energy demand in the second half of the year.”

That happened, as carbon dioxide emissions from energy rose 0.9% in 2022 to a new high of 34.4 billion metric tons, indicating lack of progress in curbing worldwide carbon output. Emissions have moved further away from the reductions called for in the Paris Agreement.

Global CO2
Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions 1965 through 2022. ROBERT RAPIER

“Despite further strong growth in wind and solar in the power sector, overall global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions increased again,” said EI President Juliet Davenport. “We are still heading in the opposite direction to that required by the Paris Agreement.”

Asia Driving Emissions

With most of the world seemingly committed to reducing carbon emissions, why do they keep increasing?

The problem is that a massive emissions gap exists between developed and developing nations. The 38 mainly high-income OECD member countries have seen declining carbon dioxide outputs for 15 years. Their emissions now match levels from 35 years ago.

Meanwhile, developing countries continue rapidly increasing fossil fuel use and carbon pollution as economies expand. The Asia Pacific region, in particular, has seen explosive growth in carbon emissions over the past 50+ years.

Regional CO2
Regional Carbon Dioxide Emissions 1965 through 2022. ROBERT RAPIER

Developing non-OECD nations have seen explosive growth in carbon emissions for two key reasons.

First, they are going through a coal-dependent development phase similar to OECD countries’ histories, before more awareness of climate impacts. Second, billions of people in populous developing countries are raising their living standards and energy consumption.

Thus, while per capita fossil fuel use lags developed nations, the aggregate emissions impact of billions of people slowly increasing consumption drives the bulk of rising global carbon dioxide output. China, for example, now emits more than double the carbon dioxide of the U.S., even though per capita emissions are half those of the U.S.

Top 10 CO2
Top 10 Carbon Dioxide Emitters. ROBERT RAPIER

This poses a monumental challenge for emissions control when 60% of the world’s population resides in fast-growing Asia-Pacific countries. Curbing worldwide carbon pollution will require developing nations to leapfrog the fossil fuel dependence that plagued OECD development. But that isn’t happening.

A Monumental Challenge

When people question why global carbon emissions won’t fall despite climate warnings, the data reveals a sobering reality. The emissions explosion in Asia’s developing nations eclipses efforts elsewhere.

It’s not only mammoth emitters like China and India. Multiple countries across the Asia-Pacific region are increasing emissions while pursuing rapid economic growth. Although the U.S. holds the title of most cumulative carbon dioxide emissions, China is on course to take that title within a decade. As a result, unilateral American carbon cuts can’t move the global needle much without Asia’s cooperation.

For half a century and counting, the emissions expansion in these populous nations has propelled global carbon dioxide to new records despite declines in developing countries. The world has little hope of reining in emissions without reversing Asia’s steep growth curve.

This presents an imposing technological and diplomatic challenge. The U.S. must take the lead in pioneering and sharing affordable low-carbon technologies enabling developing nations to leapfrog the traditional fossil fuel dependence. And urgent multilateral cooperation is needed to chart an equitable, prosperous path without dooming the climate. Taming the emissions beast requires Asia’s urgent partnership.

Follow Robert Rapier on TwitterLinkedIn, or Facebook