Global oil consumption hasn’t peaked, the head of the International Energy Agency warned, throwing cold water on hopes the coronavirus will cap demand and reduce climate-changing emissions.
“In the absence of strong government policies, a sustained economic recovery and low oil prices are likely to take global oil demand back to where it was, and beyond,” Fatih Birol said in an interview.
The world consumed last year nearly 100 million barrels a day of oil, and some in the energy industry believe that could mark the peak for global demand. Their hypothesis is that the coronavirus outbreak will trigger changes, like widespread working-from-home and less overseas travel, reducing consumption permanently.
“Could it be peak oil? Possibly. Possibly. I would not write that off,” the head of British oil major BP Plc, Bernard Looney, told the Financial Times.
If true, that would have huge implications for climate change as burning less oil would permanently reduce greenhouse emissions, easing the way to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. But Birol warned governments that the coronavirus will only reduce oil demand briefly, with consumption dipping in 2020 to about 91 million barrels a day, before rebounding in 2021 and beyond.
“Behavioral changes in response to the pandemic are visible but not all of them are negative for oil use. People are working from home more, but when they do travel, they are more likely to be in cars than public transport,” he told Bloomberg News from Paris. “Videoconferencing will not solve our energy and climate challenges, good government policies might.”
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Birol is urging governments to use their economic recovery packages to fight climate change, spending on green energy to help to achieve the goals set in the 2016 Paris accord.
The more ambitious target set under the Paris climate agreement — limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius — will require annual global emissions to be reduced by about half by 2030 and to hit net-zero around the middle of the century. Without deep structural changes, emissions are expected to rise again when economies recover.
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