Fossil fuels still dominate global energy, with Global North leading the production, report finds

SRWE report highlights persistent dominance of fossil fuels despite surge in renewables

The world has reached record rates of primary energy consumption in 2023, up by 2 per cent from 2022, the 73rd Statistical Review of World Energy (SRWE) reported.

Released annually by the Energy Institute, the SRWE puts forth data on global energy demand, production and consumption of fuels and renewable energy trends. In 2023, renewable energy made up 14.6 per cent of the total primary energy consumption; however, fossil fuels still dominated the global mix at 81.5 per cent. 

Different national contexts, different trends

A key observation in this year’s review is the contrast in numbers between the Global North and the Global South. In 2023, the Global South, which represents the developing nations, accounted for 56 per cent of the total energy consumption and the Asia-Pacific region was responsible for 47 per cent of the global energy demand. 

This regional growth was dominated by the economies of China, India, Indonesia, South Korea and the developed country of Japan. 

Energy demand increased faster than the global average in Southern and Central America, as well as the Asia-Pacific region, but total demand in Africa fell by 0.4 per cent compared to 2022. The African continent and the South Asian region have very low levels of energy demand relative to their population sizes, the SRWE highlights. Together, these two regions accounted for less than 10 per cent of global energy demand. 

However, the population size and continued growth position these regions for increased energy demand in the future. The numbers for 2023 show that fossil fuels continue to underpin the majority of economic growth in the Global South. 

This is where it is important to remember not only the vast population in the Global South, but also the historical fossil fuel emissions from the Global North that allowed them to become the wealthy developed countries they are today.

To put this in perspective from the SWRE numbers: the global average for greenhouse gas emissions per person was 6.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). The average in Africa, South Asia, Southern and Central America was 2 MtCO2e. In contrast the average in North America was 11.5 MTCO2e. 

Global emissions rose by 2.1 per cent compared to 2022 and crossed 40 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents for the first time. Much of this rise is attributed to an increase in flaring and industrial processes, which saw significant increase in the last year. 

Fossil fuel numbers reach record high

Oil consumption reached a record 100 million barrels per day, primarily driven by China as its economy begins to recover post the pandemic effects. The United States remained the largest oil producer, with an 8.5 per cent increase in production from 2022. Russia’s production fell by 1 per cent potentially due to the impact of international sanctions following the conflict with Ukraine. Southern and Central America is shaping up to be a key production region, with 11 per cent growth in 2023.

Natural gas consumption remained stable in 2023 compared to 2022. In the European region, gas demand fell by 7 per cent and gas production also fell by 7 per cent primarily driven by key producers — Norway, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In terms of production, the US set a new record of 4.2 per cent more production than in 2022. The country has surpassed Qatar as the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). This is the US’s third consecutive year setting a record production high.

Coal production also hit record numbers, with nearly 80 per cent of the output coming from the Asia-Pacific region. Australia, China, India and Indonesia accounted for nearly 97 per cent of the production from this region. Coal consumption breached 164 exajoules for the first time ever, with China leading by nearly 56 per cent. In 2023, consumption numbers also reached a record high in India, exceeding the combined consumption in Europe and North America for the first time ever.

Renewables generating 1/3 of world’s power

Renewables contributed to about 30 per cent of total power generation in 2023. Record levels of renewable capacity installation, particularly solar and wind, at 67 per cent, were driven by China and Europe. 

The Southern and Central American region recorded contributions from renewables at 72 per cent. This is despite the same region showing significant growth in oil production. 

Overall, the 2023 SRWE shows record levels of fossil fuel consumption, production and emissions but also shows record levels of renewable energy capacity and growth. A majority of the fossil fuel consumption and emissions comes from the Global South, where economies are still growing and host a majority of the world’s population. However, the Global North is leading the numbers in fossil fuel production and still remain key consumers of fossil fuels. 

The fossil fuel transition has to be led by the developed countries in the Global North who are the historical polluters and have long overshot their space in the Global Carbon Budget. The SRWE highlights that the transition is still slow, especially in these countries. 

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