In many ways, this is the most encouraging news among these findings.
Historically, the rise in carbon emissions has closely tracked the growth of the world’s economy. Last year, for instance, carbon pollution rose by 2.7 percent, while the global economy grew by 3.0 percent.
This year, the global economy is predicted to grow by about 3.0 percent again, according to the International Monetary Fund’s October estimate. But its overall carbon emissions will only increase by about 0.6 percent.
“The glimmer of hope is that the growth [in carbon emissions] is slower than in the last two years,” Jackson said. “We need to be reducing emissions, though, not slowing growth.”
Coal’s death is accelerating in North America and Europe. In China, not so much.
The slower growth in carbon pollution was driven mostly by the collapse of the coal industry in the West.
In both the United States and Europe, coal use fell by at least 10 percent this year, the project found. Coal’s decline is actually speeding up in both places: In the European Union, from 2013 to 2018, coal use fell by what now seems like a mere 5 percent a year. Meanwhile, in the United States, power companies have closed more than 500 coal-burning power plants since 2010, and they are not planning to build any new ones.
Perhaps the most staggering fact: In the United States, the amount of power generated by coal has been halved since 2005, the study finds.
But coal is not declining everywhere. Coal use in China rose by about 1 percent this year, Jackson noted. That may not sound like much, but coal is such a carbon-intensive fuel—and China burns so much of it—that it translates to a lot of new emissions. “China is responsible for at least half of global coal production now,” Jackson said.
China’s emissions from other fuels are surging too. Carbon pollution from oil, natural gas, and cement production all leaped by 6 percent this year. But coal is still king, generating two-thirds of China’s fossil-related carbon pollution.
That surge in energy use has allowed China to catch up to the rest of the world economically. China’s per-person carbon emissions “are now as high or higher as the average country in Europe,” Jackson noted.
“India has a much bigger problem with energy poverty than China does,” he added. “So China’s increase is a big part of the global rise this year.”
Renewables are growing, but not fast enough.
“We’re still seeing a strong rise in renewables around the world and in the United States,” Jackson said. “That’s the good news.”
The bad news is that there just aren’t that many solar and wind farms in the world, so even massive year-over-year growth can generate only a relatively small amount of new electricity. “In the U.S., for the last five years, renewables have grown at about 11 percent per year,” he said. “Even if natural gas had grown by a little more than 2 percent per year, that’s more energy gain than the 11 percent growth in renewables, because the gas base is so much bigger.”