The fossil fuel industry has taken a very cavalier bet that China, India and the developing world will continue to block any serious effort to curb greenhouse emissions, and that there is, in any case, no viable alternative to oil, gas or coal for decades to come.
Both assumptions were still credible six years ago when the Copenhagen climate summit ended in acrimony, poisoned by a North-South split over CO2 legacy guilt and the allegedly prohibitive costs of green virtue.
At that point the International Energy Agency (IEA) was still predicting that solar power would struggle to reach 20 gigawatts by now. Few could have foretold that it would in fact explode to 180 gigawatts - over three times Britain’s total power output - as costs plummeted, and that almost half of all new electricity installed in the US in 2013 and 2014 would come from solar.
Any suggestion that a quantum leap in the technology of energy storage might soon conquer the curse of wind and solar intermittency was dismissed as wishful thinking, if not fantasy.
Six years later there can be no such excuses. As The Telegraph reported yesterday, 155 countries have submitted plans so far for the COP21 climate summit to be held by the United Nations in Paris this December. These already cover 88pc of global CO2 emissions and include the submissions of China and India.
Taken together, they commit the world to a reduction in fossil fuel demand by 30pc to 40pc over the next 20 years, and this is just the start of a revolutionary shift to net zero emissions by 2080 or thereabouts. “It is unstoppable. No amount of lobbying at this point is going to change the direction,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official.
Yet the energy industry is still banking on ever-rising demand for its products as if nothing has changed. BP is projecting a 43pc increase in fossil fuel use by 2035, Exxon expects 35pc by 2040, Shell 43pc and Opec is clinging valiantly to 55pc. These are pure fiction.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may or may not be correct in arguing that we cannot safely burn more than 800bn tonnes of carbon (two-thirds has been used already) if we are to stop global temperatures rising two degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100. I take no view on the science.
Here is a PDF of AE-P's column.
This article is controversial, although I certainly feel that it merits our attention.
Solar energy is developing even faster than most people envisaged, thanks to ‘needs must’ and the accelerating rate of technological innovation which this service frequently mentions. China has embraced solar energy because of its chronic pollution problems. Less developed India has moved more slowly in this respect but has the same problem. Additionally, even a small rise in global temperatures presents a huge risk for tropical India.
Nevertheless, could the global economy survive with a reduction in fossil fuel consumption of 30pc to 40pc over the next 20 years, as suggested above? Moreover, might that prospect redouble efforts in both the fossil fuel sector and the industries which consume it to reduce CO2 emissions, making it more environmentally acceptable? After all, this is another important challenge for technological innovation.
I agree with AE-P, who is often prescient, that ever-rising demand for fossil fuels will not continue due to increased competition from renewables and nuclear energy. That is another challenge for the oil industry.Back to top