Global Carbon Emissions Plateaued In 2015, According To BP

Factory in the middle of a field
Carbon emissions seems to be slowing down, but they really need to stop. CHEN MIN CHUN/Shutterstock

Carbon emissions stopped growing in 2015, according to the latest figures released by BP. In their recent report, they found that the general trend of a global increase in renewables and drop in coal has led to this cessation, the first for a decade. They warn, however, that this stop in growth, while obviously good, is probably not going to last.

The report comes after the International Energy Agency found that the CO2 emissions plateaued in both 2014 and 2015, though BP says that it did not take into account some of the numbers related to China’s coal consumption that became available later in the year. This shift in emissions could be seen as yet another sign that we might be finally weaning ourselves off dirty energy, but the bigger picture is a little more complicated than it may at first seem.


While investment in renewables has been found to reach an all-time high, with $286 billion being spent on it worldwide, this has come with a corresponding hike in the capacity of green energy. The capacity for wind power went up by 17.4 percent, for example, and solar by 32.6 percent. These investments were found to be driven not by the rich, western nations, but instead by the developing countries, with China leading the pack. Despite this massive surge in renewables, it still only accounted for “nearly 3 percent of global primary energy consumption,” according to BP.

The plateauing of global emission instead seems to be down to a shift to lower carbon fossil fuels. While clearly better than continuing to burn coal, which saw a drop in consumption of 1.8 percent, it still means burning fossil fuels. “There are winners and losers,” says Spencer Dale, BP group chief economist. “We saw strong growth in oil demand, also in renewable energy, and a bounce back in natural gas from the very weak growth we saw last year.”

Oil’s share of global energy consumption rose to 32.9 percent, the first increase seen since 1999. Per day, the consumption of oil increased by 1.9 million barrels, no doubt helped by the slump in prices. But BP’s investments are showing a further shift away from oil, and more towards gas. Dale claims that natural gas is good for the environment in the sense that it is low in carbon emissions and acts as a “bridge” fuel on the way to a greener planet.

“Perhaps the key data coming out of last year’s data is that global demand for energy grew relatively slowly, by only 1 percent,” explains Dale. “That’s similar to the growth rate seen last year, but far slower than the growth rate seen over the last 10 years.”


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