We cheered earlier this year when we learned that coal use in the United States dropped in recent months to just 36% of electrical production, down from roughly half not too long ago. But new stats from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, via ClimateProgress, show that a starkly different picture emerges when you look at the world as a whole.
At that perspective, coal burning increased 5.4% last year, with coal production growing 6.1%, bringing the most polluting of the conventional fossil fuels to 30.3% of the global energy market, the highest amount since 1969.
That's bad news for climate change for sure. As Climate Progress points out, we're very close to running out of time entirely to limit temperature rise to below 2°C. In fact, a number of recent reports have said we should expect that much warming by 2050, with warming to continue throughout the rest of the century.
Renewable Energy Saw Even Stronger Growth, But So Much More Needed
If there's a glimmer of hope in the BP report, it's that the only form of energy to grow more than coal, on a percentage basis, was renewable energy.
Renewables had a record year for investment in 2011, with growth of renewable energy power generation rising to 17.7%. For the first time, wind power was the largest form of renewable energy globally, making up 25.8% of global renewable energy. Solar power growth was particularly impressive, increasing 86.3% over the previous year.
So why are we leading with the much lower growth in coal? Because despite such impressive expansion of renewables, percentage-wise, they still just account for 2.1% of energy use globally.
In other words in the time scale needed to avert dangerous climate change, to really make a difference renewables would have to increase at percentages that are more or less unthinkable in the current political and economic situation, combined with the fossil fuel industry's love of all things unconventional oil and natural gas.