GEOG 438W
Human Dimensions of Global Warming

Global Energy Demand and Consumption

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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 and for the period 1971-2003. The figure shows very low consumption in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa; nevertheless, growth has been strong in all three regions. EECCA states had skyrocketing consumption until the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites in 1989-1991. Consumption is starting to recover there, but growth rates are much lower than they were before the collapse. Europe and North America have had high consumption levels with relatively strong growth, especially in North America (i.e., the US and Canada), throughout the period. Most shocking are the energy consumption growth rates and total consumption observed in Asia. These statistics can largely be explained by the population size of this region, which has more than a third of the world’s population. What is even more stunning is that the greatest growth in this region started after 2000, so if this graph were produced through the present, the total consumption would be considerably higher and the growth rate even more spectacular.

Chart of global annual primary energy consumption by region. Critical info included in above paragraph
Figure 4.3: Primary energy consumption by world region, 1971-2003.
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 4.1. Retrieved July 11, 2011 from http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg3/en/ch4s4-1.html.

Figure 4.4 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 4.4: 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 4.5 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.