Fossil fuel use reaches global record despite clean energy growth

<span>For the first time, India’s coal-powered stations, such as the Ennore plant near Chennai, used more coal than Europe and North America combined last year.</span><span>Photograph: Idrees Mohammed/EPA</span>
For the first time, India’s coal-powered stations, such as the Ennore plant near Chennai, used more coal than Europe and North America combined last year.Photograph: Idrees Mohammed/EPA

The world’s consumption of fossil fuels climbed to a record high last year, driving emissions to more than 40 gigatonnes of CO2 for the first time, according to a global energy report.

Despite a record rise in the use of renewable energy in 2023, consumption of fossil fuels continued to increase too, an annual review of world energy by the Energy Institute found.

Juliet Davenport, the president of the Energy Institute, said the report had revealed “another year of highs in our energy-hungry world” including a record high consumption of fossil fuels, which rose by 1.5% to 505 exajoules.

The findings threaten to dash hopes held by climate scientists that 2023 would be recorded as the year in which annual emissions peaked before the global fossil fuel economy begins a terminal decline.

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The Energy Institute, the global professional body for the energy sector, found that while energy industry emissions may have reached a peak in advanced economies, developing economies are continuing to increase their reliance on coal, gas and oil.

Overall, fossil fuels made up 81.5% of the world’s primary energy last year, down only marginally from 82% the year before, according to the report, even as wind and solar farms generated record amounts of clean electricity.

The report, authored by consultants at KPMG and Kearney, found that wind and solar power climbed by 13% last year to reach a new record of 4,748 terawatt hours in 2023.

But that was not enough to match the world’s growing consumption of primary energy, which rose 2% last year to a record high of 620 exajoules and led to more fossil fuel use.

The review found that the world’s appetite for gas remained steady in 2024 while consumption of coal climbed by 1.6% and oil demand rose by 2% to reach 100m barrels a day for the first time.

Simon Virley, the UK head of energy and natural resources at KPMG, said: “In a year where we have seen the contribution of renewables reaching a new record high, ever increasing global energy demand means the share coming from fossil fuels has remained virtually unchanged at just over 80% for yet another year.”

Nick Wayth, the Energy Institute’s chief executive, added that the “slow” progress of the energy transition “masks diverse energy stories playing out across different geographies”.

“In advanced economies, we observe signs of demand for fossil fuels peaking, contrasting with economies in the global south for whom economic development and improvements in quality of life continue to drive fossil growth,” said Wayth.

The report found that, in India, fossil fuel consumption climbed by 8% last year, matching the increase in overall energy demand to make up 89% of all energy use. This meant that, for the first time, more coal was used in India than Europe and North America combined, it said.

In Europe, fossil fuels fell to below 70% of primary energy use for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, driven by falling demand and the growth of renewable energy.

Europe’s demand for gas in particular has continued to tumble since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which caused pipeline gas imports into Europe to collapse. Overall gas demand fell by 7% in 2023, according to the report, after a fall of 13% the previous year.

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