Fraser Forum

Actually, fossil fuels won’t stay ‘in the ground’

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The UK MailOnline has an article that should brighten Canadian spirits—at least those in Western Canada. Environmentalists have taken to throwing around the claim that the world must leave its fossil fuel resources “in the ground.” They’re doing this as much from a sense of wishful thinking, as a desire to scare off those who might invest in fossil fuel development or transport, and governments that might approve such development.

But in the article, John Kemp neatly refutes the idea that the world is going to leave most of its fossil fuels reserves in the ground, as well as refuting the idea that putting money toward developing and moving those reserves will lead to stranded assets:

The Paris agreement commits the signatories to holding the rise in average global temperatures "well below 2 degrees C" and "pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C."

But the problem with the concept of "unburnable carbon" is that it confuses what campaigners would like to happen in an ideal world with what is actually likely to happen in the real one.

Fast-growing demand for energy from countries in the developing world is likely to ensure increased consumption of both fossil fuels and cleaner energy from renewables over the next 20 years.

As more households in developing countries reach middle-class status, their demand for work and leisure travel, electrical appliances, consumer products and services are all set to grow, and with them total energy demand and most likely greenhouse emissions.

Kemp’s observes, as I have, that there is every reason to expect energy consumption to increase in the future, including energy from fossil fuels:

World primary energy consumption is projected to increase to more than 800 quadrillion British thermal units in 2040, up from 550 quadrillion in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Consumption in countries within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development is projected to grow by just 44 quads or 0.6 percent per year.

But consumption in the rest of the world is projected to increase by 222 quads or around 1.9 percent per year between 2012 and 2040 ("International Energy Outlook", EIA, 2014).

Energy consumption in developing countries is forecast to grow three times faster than in the advanced economies over the next two decades.

The resulting INCREASE in energy demand from developing countries will be very nearly equal to the TOTAL energy consumption of the advanced economies in 2012.

The article is fact-filled and well worth reading, but I’ll end with Kemp’s conclusion, and its pleasant implications for Alberta in a period of distress:

Climate campaigners are pressing oil, gas and coal companies to stress-test their business plans against the two degree target to discourage them from exploring and developing more reserves.

In practice, the target is probably unachievable without a much faster deployment of electric vehicles, wind, solar, nuclear power, energy efficiency measures, and carbon capture and storage technology.

The most realistic scenario is that fossil fuel consumption seems set to continue increasing through at least 2030 and probably 2040, which makes the debate over "stranded assets" misleading.


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