Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2017

Robert Lyman is an Ottawa energy policy consultant, former public servant of 27 years and former diplomat of 10 years. 

In March 2018, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a special report on the changes in global energy supply, demand and related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017. The full text of the report can be read here:


The IEA was founded in the early 1970’s as a response of the major western oil consuming countries to the security threat that they considered was posed by the 1973-74 oil embargo of the Organization of Arab Oil Producing States (OAPEC). In the late 1980’s, in keeping with the political changes taking place in Europe, and especially the rise in influence of the European Green Parties, the IEA changed its focus and much of its rationale for existence from promoting collective security to supporting the claims that humans are causing potentially catastrophic global warming and that stringent greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures were required to address this. The IEA has continued to be one of the world’s most authoritative sources of information and analysis on global energy supply and demand trends, but it has increasingly posed its reports within the framework of climate policy and promotion of “green” energy supply options.


The new report states, in almost apologetic terms, that the energy situation is not unfolding as it should. Thus, the “highlights” of the report include an almost unrelenting series of updates filled with news about increasing economic activity, expanding trade, growth in energy consumption and the resulting increasing emissions:


  • The world economy continues to grow, at a annual rate of 3.7%, with the result that global primary energy demand increased by 2.1% in 2017, compared with 0.9% on average over the previous five years.
  • More than 72% of this growth in demand was met by fossil fuels, meaning that the proportion of global oil demand met by fossil fuels continues to increase its lead over the shares held by all other energy sources.
  • World oil demand rose by 1.6% (or 1.5 million barrels per day) in 2017, a rate that was more than twice the annual average of the past decade. Indeed, 2017 marked the sixth consecutive year during which the global consumption of oil increased by more than one million barrels of oil per year.
  • Global natural gas demand grew even faster, by 3%, due in large part to abundant and relatively low cost supplies. While, over the past decade, half of global natural gas demand growth came from the power sector, in 2017 over 80% of the rise came from industry and buildings.
  • Coal refuses to die. In fact, after coal demand declined from 2013 to 2016, it grew about 1% in 2017, almost entirely due to increased coal use for electricity generation in Asia.
  • World electricity demand increased by 3.1%, with China and India accounting for 70% of this growth. Output from nuclear power plants rose by 26 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2017.
  • Renewables continued a high rate of growth, but with substantial differences between the additions to generation capacity and to actual generation. It should be noted that the IEA definition of renewables includes power produced by hydroelectricity. By the end of 2017, global solar power generation capacity, according to the IEA, had increased to almost 400 GW, and that of onshore and offshore industrial wind generators to about 510 GW. Of the actual electricity generation of 25,570 TWh in 2017, coal-fired generation was 35%, natural gas-fired 23%, hydro 16%, nuclear 10%, wind and solar 9%, and oil 4%.
  • The reduction in energy intensity that has been going on for over two decades continued in 2017, but at a slower rate than in recent years. Globally, energy intensity in 2017 fell by 1.7%, which the IEA noted with sadness is only half what is required to remain “on track” with the Paris Agreement’s goals.


The consequence of all this is that global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 1.4% in 2017, an increase of 460 million tonnes, to reach a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes (Gt).  Most major economies experienced a rise in emissions, with the ironic exception of the United States, which experienced a 25 million tonne decline in emissions (the largest of any country), the United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan. Overall, Asian countries accounted for two-thirds of the increase in emissions.


For the IEA, sometimes the truth hurts.