Energy Consumption Data During the Pandemic Year Reveals China’s Growth

2020 is a year that most people would likely soon forget, both in terms of personal impacts and the overall economic downturn caused by the pandemic. While it hopefully will prove to be an anomaly, economic and energy usage data and statistics from 2020 still provide some useful insights and glimpses of future issues. BP recently released its annual Statistical Review of World Energy, covering through the end of 2020.

Although declines in use were noted for coal and natural gas, oil had the sharpest decline in global consumption: 9.1 million barrels per day, or 9.3 per cent. The decline is the largest ever seen and accounts for about three-quarters of the total decline in energy consumption. Oil demand fell the most in the US (2.3 million barrels per day), followed by the decline in the European Union of 1.5 million barrels per day. China saw an increase in oil consumption of 220,000 barrels per day.

Patterns in coal production and consumption are also interesting. Both production and consumption of coal in the US has dropped dramatically since 2010. In 2020, the US had 23 percent of the world’s proven coal reserves but accounted for only 6.7 percent of the world’s production and only 6.1 percent of the world’s consumption. These figures suggest that the US is currently exporting quite a bit of coal. It is likely going to China.

China’s production of coal has risen dramatically since 2010 and now accounts for over 50 percent of the world’s production. It is also a voracious consumer of coal, accounting for over 54 percent of the world’s consumption. India is no laggard either, accounting for over 11 percent of the world’s consumption.

Not surprisingly, the US, China, and India are also major emitters of carbon dioxide. However, US emissions have steadily dropped since 2010, mainly due to fuel switching to natural gas. By way of contrast, emissions from China and India have steadily grown. China’s emissions in 2010 were 8,145 million tons, growing to 9,899 million tons in 2020, accounting for over 30 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. Indeed, China’s carbon dioxide emissions actually increased from 2019 by a little less than one percent. India’s emissions in 2010 were 1,652 million tons, growing to 2,302 million tons in 2020, accounting for over 7 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions in 2020.

The BP report also notes that the rate of decline in global carbon emissions observed in 2020 (6.3 percent) is similar to what the world needs to average each and every year for the next 30 years to be on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. If carbon emission did decline by that much each year, global carbon emissions would decline by around 85 percent by 2050, which is consistent with keeping warming below 1.5 degree Celsius.

Of course, entire nations shut down their economies in 2020, leading to the carbon emission decline. It is somewhat unlikely that similar global shutdowns will occur every year for the next thirty years, especially while China increases its energy consumption, suggesting that achieving the carbon goals may prove elusive. It seems clear, though, that addressing carbon dioxide emissions will have to involve decreases from China and India, who show no signs of relenting their pursuit of coal and other fossil fuel energy.

John B. King is a partner with Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson LLP in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His practice relates mainly to environmental regulatory permitting and compliance. Prior to joining the firm in 2003, he served as chief attorney for enforcement for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. For more information, check, or contact John B. King at or (225) 381-8014.

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