In the United States, emissions of carbon dioxide are projected to increase 2.5 percent in 2018 after a decade of declines.
“We thought, perhaps hoped, emissions had peaked a few years ago,” said Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth).
“After two years of renewed growth, that was wishful thinking.”
Culprits for the increase include unusual weather — a cold winter in Eastern states and a warm summer across much of the nation ramped up energy needs for seasonal heating and cooling — as well as a growing appetite for oil in the face of low gas prices.
Consumption of one fossil fuel, however, is no longer on the rise: coal. The study shows coal consumption in Canada and the United States has dropped by 40 percent since 2005, and in 2018 alone the U.S. is expected to take a record-setting 15 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity offline.
“Market forces and the drive for cleaner air are pushing countries toward natural gas, wind and solar power,” Jackson said. “This change will not only reduce CO2 emissions but will also save lives lost to air pollution.”
Yet the study shows renewables around the world are largely coming online as add-ons to fossil fuel energy sources — particularly natural gas — rather than replacements. “It isn’t enough for renewables to grow,” Jackson said.
“They need to displace fossil fuels. So far, that’s happening for coal but not for oil or natural gas.”
Over time, the researchers warn increased coal use in regions where large swaths of the population lack access to reliable electricity could eventually exceed the steep cuts to coal use elsewhere.
India’s emissions, for example, are projected to grow by 6 percent this year as the country races to build new power plants for both industrial and consumer needs.
“They’re building everything — wind, solar, nuclear and coal — very quickly,” Jackson said.
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