In One Chart: This boring chart is actually a ‘worrying’ one for the planet

BP’s annual statistical review of world energy often makes for fascinating reading, and this year’s edition contains an alarm about the environment from one of the world’s largest fossil-fuel producers.

One chart in particular shows that, for all the talk of natural gas replacing coal, the reality is basically nothing has changed.

The share of global power plants by source of fuel.

The share of power plants fueled by coal is the same as it was 20 years ago, at 38%.

That’s of course because of China, whose rapid expansion and dirtier power generation more than offset the U.S. switch to natural gas.

“I had no idea that so little progress had been made until I looked at these data,” said Spencer Dale, BP’s BP, -0.25%  chief economist, who also held the same role at the Bank of England.

That matters since the power sector is by far and away the single biggest market for energy. China is aware of the problem, and gas demand from that country jumped by over 15% due to policies to encourage a switch to that fuel from coal.

According to BP, global power generation rose by 2.8% last year, close to its 10-year average, driven by the developing world. There was a strong expansion in renewable energy, as solar accounted for 35% and wind 17% of the new generation. China on its own added more than 50 gigawatts of solar capacity.

Globally, carbon emissions rose 1.6% in 2017, after three years of virtually no increase.

“My guess is that some of the deterioration in 2017 relative to the previous three years will persist, but not all of it. So I’m a bit worried, but not overly so. Personally, I am more worried by the lack of progress in the power sector over the past 20 years, than by the pickup in carbon emissions last year,” Dale said.

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