Global energy mix 2020: how worried should we be?

Despite record growth in renewables, the vast majority of the world’s power still comes from fossil fuels, says landmark report.

With so much noise made about renewables such as wind and solar, it’s easy to lose perspective on where our energy is really coming from. So for those of us fighting to solve the climate crisis, it’s time for a stark reality check.

Is global energy really getting cleaner?


Well, according to BP’s 2020 Statistical Review of World Energy summarised in the graph above, the overall picture is bleak. A staggering 84% of global primary energy consumption in 2019 was still produced by the burning of fossil fuels, with oil being the single biggest contributor at 33%. By comparison wind and solar made only vanishingly small contributions at just 2.2% and 1.1% respectively.

But the most sobering fact is this. Despite an urgent need to leave fossil fuels behind we’ve only reduced their global share of primary energy by 1.8% in… two decades!

Now there are some reasons for optimism. Nuclear energy – which is naturally low-carbon – grew in 2019 at its fastest rate in 15 years and contributed a solid 4.3% of the overall mix. This, alongside unprecedented growth in new renewables, helped the low-carbon energy sector account for a not insignificant 16%.

And even when looking at the fossil fuel sector there are hints of good news too. Coal – one the truly most toxic fossil fuels there is – does appear to be declining, albeit it at a frustratingly slow speed. Its share of global power demand dropped in 2019 by 0.6% – its fourth decline in six years.

So are things heading in the right direction? Can we sit back and relax? Sadly not.

When we zoom out to see the bigger picture its clear how monumental the task of global decarbonisation still is. Global energy demand is still growing significantly and so too are deadly carbon emissions. Whilst they only rose 0.5% in 2019, carbon emissions grew the year before by a deeply concerning 2.1% – all when they should be going down not up.

And when we look at electricity use alone (generally about 1/3rd of total energy consumption) we can see just how stubbornly fossil fuels have clung on to their dominance despite decades of warnings about climate change.

So what can be done? Well, if this stark picture is to change, we urgently need a historic expansion of every clean energy source we’ve got – including nuclear.

If we’re serious about climate action we need all the help we can get.

Read more:

Our World In Data – Global Energy Mix 2020

International Energy Agency – Renewables 2019