World Rapidly Approaching Peak Fossil Fuels, Analysts Say

The shuttered San Juan coal plant near Waterflow, New Mexico.

The shuttered San Juan coal plant near Waterflow, New Mexico. Steven Baltakatei Sandoval via Wikipedia

Multiple recent analyses find that global fossil fuel demand is nearing its peak, with energy emissions at last headed for decline.

A forthcoming forecast from the historically conservative International Energy Agency indicates that demand for each fossil fuel — coal, oil, and natural gas — will begin to fall this decade. “These remarkable shifts will bring forward the peak in global greenhouse gas emissions,” IEA chief Fatih Birol wrote in a recent op-ed for the Financial Times.

The power sector is already on the cusp of peak emissions, as wind and solar gain ground on coal and natural gas, according to a recent report from energy think tank Ember. In the first half of this year, wind and solar power grew 12 percent, while fossil power grew just 0.1 percent. Power sector emissions have plateaued and could begin to fall before the end of 2023.

Emissions from oil-reliant cars, trucks, planes, and ships will take slightly longer to crest. A new analysis from consulting firm DNV finds that oil emissions are set to peak in 2025, a shift driven in large part by the rapid growth of electric vehicles. Total energy emissions, across all fuels, are likely to peak in 2024, the analysis found.

Despite the rosy outlook for clean energy, analysts warn that emissions are still not falling fast enough to keep warming to 1.5 degrees C, the aim of the Paris Agreement. Hitting the 1.5-degree goal, Birol wrote, “will require significantly stronger and faster policy action by governments.”


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