Despite the avalanche of good news about the rise of renewable energy, global fossil fuel consumption has grown 2.4 times faster than renewables over the last decade, analyst Barry Saxifrage reports, based on data from BP’s latest Statistical Review of World Energy.
The “climate-sobering fossil fuel side of this story” shows fossil energy continuing to increase rapidly between 2009 and 2016 and supplying 85% of global energy demand, with oil and gas expanding faster than any other energy source, he writes.
Saxifrage created a chart that shows global energy demand growing by the equivalent of 1,675 million tonnes of oil over the seven-year span, beginning with a 570-million-tonne surge between 2009 and 2010. Renewable energy production grew by the equivalent of 475 million tonnes, or just 300 million excluding large hydro.
“The expansion of renewables over the last seven years isn’t enough to cover even the single-year demand surge of 2010,” he writes. “Sure, that was a big year for demand, as the world emerged from a global recession. But those last seven years have also been the all-time biggest years ever for renewable energy.”
And “the situation looks even worse if you don’t like the idea of relying on expanding hydropower dams. That’s because hydropower expanded more than any other renewable over those years.”
The result: Fossil fuel use growing at 2.4 times the pace of renewable energy consumption. “Instead of prioritizing climate-safe renewables, humanity met most of the rising energy demand by burning ever more fossil carbon,” Saxifrage concludes. “When people have wanted more energy, they have mostly decided to burn more fossil carbon, not install more renewables.”
While declaring himself a “huge fan of renewables”, Saxifrage cautions against “cherry-picking climate hope” when the comparative data still tell a very different story. “It’s tempting, for sure, but can distract from what actually determines our climate fate: how much fossil fuel we burn,” he notes. Critical and necessary as they are to a post-carbon future, “renewables aren’t the metric that will determine our climate future. Renewables can—and currently are—prospering, even as fossil fuels expand and we accelerate into the climate crisis.”