Humanity's hunger for energy – and its reliance on fossil fuels – shows few signs of letting up. In fact, as the world's economy boomed last year, power plants fueled by coal emitted their highest level of carbon dioxide on record, a new report said.
"As a result of higher energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.7 percent last year and hit a new record, according to the report, which was released Monday by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
"Higher energy demand was propelled by a global economy that expanded by 3.7 percent in 2018," the report said. "China, the United States and India together accounted for nearly 70 percent of the rise in energy demand."
The report is the latest assessment of global energy consumption and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions for 2018, the IEA said.
Coal remains the planet's top source for electricity. While many countries are slowly phasing out coal in favor of other fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal use rose, thanks to a fleet of relatively new plants in Asia.
"The majority of coal-fired generation capacity today is found in Asia, with 12-year-old plants on average, decades short of average lifetimes of around 50 years," Monday's report said.
Overall, China, India and the U.S. account for 85 percent of the increase in emissions, the report said. The total amount of global emissions in 2018 was 33.1 billion tons, the highest on record.
Though also a main contributor to air and water pollution, global warming is coal’s most serious, long-term, global impact, the Union of Concerned Scientists said.
Global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. That burning emits carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise to levels that cannot be explained by natural factors.
The IEA has said that burning coal has been responsible for over 0.3 degrees C of the 1-degree increase in Earth's temperatures since the late 1800s.
The report released Monday had some good news for renewable energy sources: Solar and wind generation in 2018 grew at a double-digit pace, with solar alone increasing by 31 percent. Still, that was not fast enough to meet higher electricity demand around the world that also drove up the use of coal.
The goal of the landmark 2016 Paris Agreement was to reduce global carbon emissions, keep the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Except for the United States, every nation signed the agreement. Though the U.S. originally signed on, President Donald Trump announced in 2017 that it would withdraw, claiming the agreement would hinder the economy.
Experts said that to slow or stop the unnatural warming of the planet, people must reduce burning fossil fuels and shift to renewable, carbon-free energy. "The level of drastic, large-scale action we urgently need has yet to been seen," a 2018 report from the United Nations said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coal is the main offender for global warming, and yet the world is using it more than ever