GEOG 438W
Human Dimensions of Global Warming

Global Energy Demand and Consumption

PrintPrint

The world consumes massive quantities of energy, with much of that energy embodied by GHG-emitting fossil fuels.[1] Figure 4.3 shows primary energy consumption by world region in 2015. Together, China and the United States represent 40% of global energy consumption.  This is why our cooperation to solve climate change-related challenges is so pivotal.

Chart of global annual primary energy consumption by region. Critical info included in above paragraph
Figure 4.3: World primary energy consumption 2015.
Credit: US Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics and International Energy Outlook 2017. Note: OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Figure 4.4a shows a graph of global consumption by fuel type for 1971-2005. Overall consumption has doubled over the 35 years. The three fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) dominate, encompassing between 80 to 90 percent of energy consumption throughout the period. Oil provides the largest proportion of energy, but proportionally has lost ground to coal and especially natural gas. Coal has had an upsurge in the 21st century, especially after 2005 (not shown), and may become the leading fossil fuel in the future as oil supplies drop and demand for energy increases in places such as China and India, with massive coal reserves but little oil and natural gas. Biomass and hydroelectric power grew little, but nuclear expanded considerably during the period. Other renewables are a trivial proportion of the global energy picture. Clearly, the grip of the GHG-producing fossil fuels on the world energy picture is strong.

Chart of primary energy consumption by fuel type.  Critical information in paragraph above
Figure 4.4a: World primary energy consumption by fuel type 1971-2005.
Credit: Sims, et al., 2007. Energy supply. In: Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, et al. (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Chapter 4.2. Retrieved July 11, 2011 from http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg3/en/ch4s4-2.html.

Figure 4.4b shows similar data along a different time frame.  Here we see a projection through 2040.  There are several notable observations to make from this graphic. fossil fuel consumption continues to grow worldwide through 2040 with the exception of coal, which levels off around 2020 and very slowly declines and stabilizes renewable sources grow in consumption as well while nuclear remains relatively flat What does this all mean for our climate?  This projection suggests a slower retreat from carbon-intensive fuels like petroleum and natural gas than is necessary to meet aggressive reduction goals.

EIA chart showing projected energy consumption by source 2015-2040
Figure 4.4b: World energy consumption by energy source 1990-2040.
Credit: US Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2017

Figure 4.5 shows a map of per capita energy consumption across the globe. An obvious general pattern emerges: low-latitude countries have very low per capita consumption –– and therefore low per capita GHG emissions –– while mid- to high-latitude countries have high per capita consumption and emissions. (Exceptions exist. For example, Saudi Arabia has anomalously high per capita energy consumption compared to surrounding countries because it is a wealthy, oil-rich country with a low population.) On the one hand, the pattern suggests that low-latitude countries with very low per capita energy consumption and very high populations such as China, India, and Indonesia, will become significant sources of GHGs as their per capita consumption figures rise. Indeed, China, which has the world’s largest population, has rapidly rising per capita energy consumption. Combined with its focus on coal as its primary energy source, China is now the world’s largest emitter of GHGs. India is hot on China’s heels, with a rapidly expanding coal-based economy. On the other hand, the pattern also suggests global inequities because the mid- to high-latitude countries have such very high per capita energy consumption figures. Opportunities exist for these countries to reduce per capita consumption by undertaking energy efficiency measures, adopting non-GHG-producing energy types, and modifying their energy-intensive lifestyles. This contrast between the low latitudes (the global South) and the mid- to high latitudes (the global North) is at the heart of the ongoing United Nations climate negotiations.

Map of the world showing annual energy consumption per capita. Critical information in paragraph above
Figure 4.5: Global annual energy consumption per capita by country, 2004.
Credit: Sims, et al., 2007. Energy supply. In: Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, et al. (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Chapter 4.2.4. Retrieved July 11, 2011 from http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg3/en/ch4s4-2-4.html.

[1] Most of remainder of this lesson is based on figures presented in Sims, et al., 2007. Energy supply. In: Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, et al. (eds)], Cambridge University Press.