In "Ice on Fire", a new documentary narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor and environmental activist highlights the magnitude of the climate crisis and some of the tools available to fight it, from renewable energy to advanced batteries to carbon capture. A new report from BP suggests that recent progress on this front has been slow. In its annual statistical review of world energy, the British oil firm finds that the world’s power sector is spewing out ever more CO2. Overall emissions of greenhouse gases increased by 2% in 2018. In the power industry, emissions rose by 2.7%, the biggest increase in seven years. This was driven by a high number of days that were either unusually hot or cold, which boosted energy demand. Without a more sustainable energy mix, the low-carbon future Mr DiCaprio envisions will be a thing of Hollywood.
There are some grounds for optimism. Data from the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental group, show that the carbon intensity of the power sector—the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of electricity generated—has fallen by 10% since 2010. That is in part because the use of renewable energy, including solar and wind, is up. Of the 78 countries tracked by BP, three-quarters have some form of renewable power, up from just a third twenty years ago. To make meaningful progress, however, renewable electricity production will have to keep pace with global energy demand, which jumped by 3.7% in 2018. Producers will also have to do more to remove coal, easily the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, from the electricity grid. Coal-fired power plants still supply more than a third of the world’s power. In 2018, coal-based output increased for the second consecutive year, following three years of declines.
To clean up the industry, a variety of fuels and technologies will be needed. For the power sector to keep its carbon emissions steady at 2015 levels, BP estimates it could have added some 1,000 terawatt-hours of renewable energy to the mix (equivalent to the renewable output of China and America combined). Alternatively, it could have swapped out 10% of its coal capacity with natural gas. BP, itself a major producer of natural gas, argues that renewables alone will not achieve the goals laid out in the Paris climate agreement of 2018, in which signatories committed themselves to keeping the rise in global temperature "well below" 2°C above pre-industrial levels. There is much debate on the relative merits of gas and renewables, but the report makes one point indisputable: current trends set the world on a dangerous path.
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