Amid all the justified enthusiasm for double-digit growth in clean energy generation, the increasing price-and-reliability parity of renewables, and international commitments to reduce climate-altering carbon emissions, there is one very uncomfortable truth: we’re still burning more fossil fuels each year than the year before.
That’s one of the painful realities the National Observer’s Barry Saxifrage exposes in a series of charts derived from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. As Saxifrage notes, the oil major’s annual review “is one of the most widely used and referenced around the world.”
On examining its latest iteration, however, Saxifrage found its six dozen spreadsheets and charts left his most burning question unanswered: “How much fuel is the world burning each year? Such a simple question,” the reporter writes, “and the answer tells one of the most important stories in the world: are we finally turning the corner on our fossil fuel dependency?”
To answer it, Saxifrage dug into the spreadsheets, did the math, and built his own “missing charts.” They mostly make for depressing—or at least cautionary—reading.
To his bottom-line question, Saxifrage’s first chart responds with the sobering information that “last year humanity set another fossil fuel energy record of 11.4 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (Gtoe). A decade ago, we were at 10 Gtoe of energy.” That’s followed by another graph showing that while 2016’s increase in fossil use wasn’t the largest on record, it was higher than the two previous years’.
A third graph points out that, despite declarations of an energy tipping point in favour of renewable sources, the fossil fuel share of global energy has barely budged in the last quarter-century—slipping barely two percentage points from 88 to 86% of all supply. That hasn’t changed in the last five years, during which the use of both oil and gas has increased at nearly three times the rate of renewables expansion. “These twin surges,” Saxifrage writes, “threaten to ‘lock in’ global climate failure.”
There is apparent good news in one line of the BP statistics, Saxifrage finds: “It looks like coal burning has declined in the last few years.” However, even that is likely illusory. He believes BP is “under-reporting what’s really being burned,” and gives “four maddeningly compelling reasons” for his assessment: The continuing rise in atmospheric CO2, China’s history of revising its coal consumption upward, the number of new coal plants being built around the world, and “human nature: growing pressure to under-report and no way to catch it.”
“It’s hard for me to see any sign of good news for our future climate or oceans in BP’s latest energy data,” Saxifrage concludes. “There is no sign of a turning point in our dependence on fossil fuels.”