LONDON - Global energy demand continued its sluggish growth last year as China's growth fell to its lowest in nearly 20 years while renewables flourished, BP said in a report on Tuesday.
Slower demand growth helped stall the acceleration of greenhouse gases emissions for a third year to levels not seen since the 1980s, although emissions remained well above targets set out by nations in Paris in 2015 to fight climate change, BP said.
Global energy demand grew by 1 per cent in 2016, a rate similar to those seen in the previous two years but well below the 10-year average rate of 1.8 percent, BP said in its benchmark Statistical Review of World Energy.
"This is a third year where we've seen weak growth in world energy demand. The new normal is that all of this growth is coming from developing economies," particularly China and India, BP Chief Economist Spencer Dale told reporters.
China's growth during 2015 and 2016, 1.2 and 1.3 per cent respectively, although still the strongest in the world, marked its lowest over a two-year period since 1997-98.
While the slowing energy demand growth was a result of sluggish global economic activity, it also stemmed from more efficient of engines and factories, he said.
Among fossil fuels, oil consumption grew at the fastest annual rate at 1.6 per cent last year as low crude prices boosted consumption.
Oil production grew by half a percent, or 400,000 barrels per day, the lowest gain since 2009, as energy companies slashed spending.
U.S. shale, or tight, oil production fell dramatically last year but has rebounded strongly in recent months as oil prices have risen, a factor that the market should get used to, Dale said.
"U.S. tight oil is like a Weeble: It falls off but then it bounces back up again," Dale said. "Any sense of trying to kill tight oil makes no sense."
As oil demand growth continues to outstrip production growth, global oil stocks which have plagued the market since 2014 will start falling "more materially" in the second half of this year, Dale said.
Gas saw similar growth to oil.
Cheaper and abundant gas supplies in the United States and China's drive to switch to cleaner feedstock for its power plants led to a 1.7 per cent drop in demand for coal, the most pollutant fossil fuel.
Coal's share in the energy mix declined to its lowest since 2004 at around 28 per cent. Production saw its largest ever annual drop at 6.2 per cent, BP said.
"It feels to me like we are seeing a decisive break in coal relative to the past," Dale said.
Renewables such as solar and wind power were the fastest growing source of energy, rising by 12 per cent and accounting for a third of the overall growth in demand.
Still, renewables provide only 4 per cent of the world's primary energy as China overtook the United States for the first time as the largest producer of renewable power.
The slowing growth in energy demand, the shift to cleaner fuels and higher energy efficiency meant that carbon emissions grew by 0.1 per cent last year, similar to the previous two years, making it the lowest three-year average for emissions growth since 1981-83.
"While welcome, it is not yet clear how much of this break from the past is structural and will persist. We need to keep up our focus and efforts on reducing carbon emissions," BP CEO Bob Dudley said.