coal
We’re still burning way too much of this stuff.
Shutterstock / Sergiy Telesh

Between 1990 and 2010, the perils of climate change became very clear, as did the urgent need for renewable energy, but we still didn’t do much to clean up the world’s fuel supplies.

We produced almost as much greenhouse gas for every unit of energy used in 2010 as we did in 1990, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency [PDF]. While the U.S. and other countries have been making strides in moving away from coal, which is the worst of the climate-changing fuels, India, China, and some European nations have been burning more of the stuff.

From Bloomberg:

The increasing use of coal buoyed by demand from emerging economies such as China and India kept the amount of CO2 output in energy almost static, the IEA said. In 1990, carbon intensity, or the level of CO2 emitted for each energy unit supplied, was 2.39 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of oil equivalent, compared with 2.37 in 2010.

From a press release about the IEA report:

“The drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven told the [Clean Energy Ministerial], which brings together ministers representing countries responsible for four-fifths of global greenhouse-gas emissions. “Despite much talk by world leaders, and despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago.” …

“As world temperatures creep higher due to ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide — two thirds of which come from the energy sector — the overall lack of progress should serve as a wake-up call,” Ms. Van der Hoeven said. “We cannot afford another 20 years of listlessness. We need a rapid expansion in low-carbon energy technologies if we are to avoid a potentially catastrophic warming of the planet, but we must also accelerate the shift away from dirtier fossil fuels.”

The report was not all doom and gloom, though. Some things have been improving during the past couple of years. Again, from the press release:

From 2011 to 2012, solar photovoltaic and wind technologies grew by an impressive 42% and 19%, respectively, despite ongoing economic and policy turbulence in the sector. Emerging economies are also stepping up efforts in clean energy. Brazil, China and India were among the countries that enhanced policy support for the renewable electricity sector in 2012, for example. Advanced vehicle technologies also progressed well, with hybrid-electric vehicles breaking the 1 million annual sales mark. Electric vehicle sales also more than doubled to reach 110,000 vehicles.

Now we just need a lot more of that and a lot less filthy coal and oil.