America Is Increasing Oil Use Faster Than Any Other Country for the First Time in 20 Years: Report

The world's largest economies have increased their use of fossil fuels despite global efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, a new report has found—and the U.S. is among those leading the way.

According to new findings from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the highest energy demand for more than a decade produced record carbon emissions, driven largely by higher oil consumption in the U.S. and coal burning in China and India.

Energy demand grew by 2.3 percent worldwide overall, as world economies enjoyed a year of strong performance. This is of concern to environmental organizations and lawmakers hoping to stick to the 2016 Paris climate change agreement, which aims to significantly reduce global reliance on fossil fuels and related carbon emissions.

Though the use of renewable energy is also growing—solar alone by 31 percent—the IEA said it was not enough to meet global energy demands, with a boom in natural gas accounting for 45 percent of the rise in energy consumption worldwide. Natural gas growth was especially pronounced in the U.S. and China, the IEA found.

U.S. economic growth was the main driver behind country's increased use of oil products, which grew faster than any other nation for the first time in two decades. China previously led the world in increasing rates of oil use. The U.S. increased oil consumption by around 540,000 barrels a day—some 20 percent more than China.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told Bloomberg: "We have seen spectacular growth of the economy in the U.S. We have seen several new petrochemical projects coming online."

Rising energy demand in the U.S. was partially caused by the impact of weather conditions, the IEA explained, as extreme temperatures made cooling and heating systems more important for Americans.

Elsewhere, coal use was up thanks to demand from major Asian economies. Though that fuel's share of overall energy production continues to decline, the 0.7 percent increase in 2018 marked the second consecutive year of growth in its usage. Rising electricity demand—for which coal is preferred to natural gas—was cited by the IEA as the main cause.

The organization also said that coal is responsible for about a third of the 1 degree Celsius increase in average annual surface temperatures versus preindustrial levels. This is the largest impact of any other fossil fuel.

The Paris climate agreement is—to date—the most significant international commitment to reducing global carbon emissions. Signatories agreed to keep the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and ideally to 1.5 degrees. Above this point, scientists warned the risks and effects of climate change would be far more pronounced.

Though it was criticized for the lack of concrete measures proposed to achieve this goal, the agreement was still framed as a vital step in global cooperation on climate change. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement soon after he took office.

The IEA reported that emissions had increased in the U.S., China and India, but that Germany, Japan, Mexico, France and the U.K. all recorded falling output. Global energy-related emissions hit 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide last year—an all-time high. The 1.7 percent growth rate was also the highest since 2013.

American carbon emissions fossil fuel climate change oil
An oil refinery blow off stack in Texas City, Texas, on September 16, 2008. The world’s largest economies have increased their use of fossil fuels despite global efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and the U.S. is among the countries leading the way. Mark Wilson/Getty Images