Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2019. Lyman’s bio can be read here.

The figures in this paper are drawn from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, and relate to the emissions, in carbon dioxide equivalent, from the combustion of energy. These are about 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.

The prevailing fiction about climate change in Canada and much of the world is that people must make major changes in their use of energy in order to join a global movement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of the reasons why it is a fiction is that global greenhouse gas emissions are, in fact, increasing, just as they have been for most of the last 29 years since claims of human-caused global warming first gained public attention.

The last decade, from 2008 to 2018, has witnessed a 12 per cent growth in global emissions, according to the British Petroleum Statistical Review of World Energy 2019. This occurred in spite of the worst and most prolonged economic recession since the Great Depression. During the last year, 2017-2018, emissions grew two per cent, twice their annual average rate over the previous decade.


Somewhat obscured by these global averages is that the growth in emissions has been driven by a large wave of growth in China’s economy. That growth was so significant, and China’s reliance on fossil fuels for energy so important, that China’s emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent grew from 7.4 billion tonnes in 2008 to 9.4 billion tonnes in 2018, by far the highest in the world. China’s emissions growth alone accounted for almost 58% of the world’s emissions growth over the decade.

That was the first wave of a large series of increases in emissions by the developing countries as they seek to increase their economic growth and living standards so as to move closer to the standards enjoyed by the wealthier countries.

China’s wave is far from finished. In fact, by 2030 China’s emissions will probably be over three times those of the United States, the second largest emitter.

Somewhat less obvious from the statistics, however, is that we are soon likely to see three more waves of emissions increases that will shape the future.

The next wave will be the ever-increasing emissions growth in India. India is already the fourth largest emitter in the world. Its emissions grew from 1,467 million tonnes in 2008 to 2,479 million tonnes in 2018, an amazing 69 per cent. Despite government commitments to reduce its emissions intensity and to increase the share of renewable energy in its electricity generation, India’s fast-growing use of coal-fired power plants and its efforts to grow its economy in every way will continue the emissions growth. This is largely driven by population growth. By 2028, India’s population will reach 1.5 billion and exceed that of China.

There are two more waves coming right behind India. The first wave is the growth of emissions from the countries of south and southeast Asia.

Table 1 shows the present and projected growth of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from these countries, under the assumption that their emissions growth from 2018 to 2030 is at the same rate as their growth over the last decade.

Table 1

 Emissions from Selected Countries in South and Southeast Asia
      (million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Country2018 Emissions2030 Emissions
Indonesia543 831
Singapore230 343

Under these assumptions, by 2030 the emissions of the countries of South and Southeast Asia, not counting China and India, would exceed those of the European Union.

The fourth wave of global emissions growth will be from the countries of the Middle East. The western public generally thinks of the Middle East as a desert area with high oil and natural gas production and low population. Instead, the population there is one of the fastest growing in the world. Table 2 shows the present and projected growth in emissions from the five largest emitters there, using the same assumptions as in Table 1.

Table 2

    Emissions from Selected Countries in the Middle East
          (million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)
Country2008 Emissions2030 Emissions
Iran656 892
Saudi Arabia571811
UAE 277379

The most recent authoritative projections of global emissions were published by the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) in September 2019. In its International Energy Outlook, the EIA projected that in the period to 2050, world energy consumption will rise nearly 50% and carbon dioxide emissions will grow from 2018 levels to about 43 billion tonnes per year by 2050, with almost all the growth occurring in the non-OECD (i.e. developing) countries.

In short, there is overwhelming evidence that global emissions are increasing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This is the context in which Canadians should view calls for costly emissions reductions here.