Big Oil calls the peak
One of the biggest of the big oil majors aimed a cold shower at the industry’s cheerleading squads this week.
As oil CEOs took turns announcing record profits — the big Western oil majors raked in $200 billion last year — BP released its annual Energy Outlook, projecting a faster decline for oil and gas than it foresaw just one year ago.
The recalibration was needed because Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is “likely to accelerate the pace of the energy transition,” according to BP’s chief economist, Spencer Dale.
Another big driver is the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act which is pumping hundreds of billions into renewables and cleantech.
BP’s soothsayers outline three scenarios — in all of them, oil demand is already at its peak and begins falling within a few years.
One of the three scenarios is strangely called “New Momentum” but it’s really business-as-usual. It assumes climate action will be similar to what we’ve seen the past few years. The other two show what’s likely with accelerated action or even a serious push for net-zero by 2050. Here’s how they look:
You’ll have heard alot from industry about how the world will be using oil for decades to come. The part they’re leaving out is that the world will be using a lot less of it. And that has major implications for provinces intent on digging and drilling for more and more.
“The future of global energy is dominated by four trends,” says BP’s Energy Outlook: “Declining role for hydrocarbons, rapid expansion in renewables, increasing electrification, and growing use of low-carbon hydrogen.”
The vast majority of Canadian oil goes to the U.S. so it’s worth taking a moment to see what BP has to say about that market. Oil is about 40 per cent of the U.S. energy mix today and will fall to 5 per cent in the Net Zero scenario (12 per cent in the Accelerated scenario, and 21 per cent in New Momentum).
How does that translate into demand? U.S. demand for oil falls from 19 million barrels per day to somewhere between 3 Mb/d in Net Zero and 11Mb/d in New Momentum.
So, you know, maybe time to stop the grade school sniping about just transitions and get on with one. Because BP knows a thing or two about oil trajectories, having started the whole oil-in-the-Middle East business over one hundred years (and several rebrandings) ago, when it was known as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.
What about gas? Well, “Prospects for natural gas depend on the speed of the energy transition,” says BP — a phrase that could be repurposed for our prospects as a species.
If we fail to tackle climate change any more aggressively than we are today, gas demand might actually increase. But as you can see from BP’s scenarios, a bet on gas is a bet on climate failure:
We might ask how likely it is that we continue on a business-as-recently scenario? If war in Europe and inflation have accelerated the energy transition, how plausible is it to imagine we will simply stay-the-course as nature’s angry fangs bite ever more deeply?
Bloomberg NEF just reported investment in the energy transition surpassed $1 trillion last year — matching fossil fuels for the first time. And Inevitable Policy Response (an organization tracking climate policies) found the past three months were the most ambitious to date. Recent events have been a “new catalyst for climate action,” it says.
This week, the world’s most powerful woman, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced "We have completely got rid of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels. It went much faster than we expected... So we have the possibility to redirect or reorient the additional funding — 250 billion euros — to our net-zero industries."
Von der Leyen might be overstating her case but wind and solar became Europe’s top electricity source last year, overtaking gas. The think tank Ember projects fossil generation could drop 20 per cent across the continent this year.
“There is now a focus on rapidly cutting gas demand—at the same time as phasing out coal,’’ Ember says. “This means a massive scale-up in clean energy is on its way.”
That news even prompted Elon Musk to turn some attention away from Twitter sinks and rocket ships and sow some much-needed cognitive chaos among his legions of conservative and alt-right fans.
Wind & solar, combined with batteries, will solve sustainable energy for Earth https://t.co/sfsfyoFY6L— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 31, 2023
Say what you will about Musk’s antics, but if there are any possible antidotes to the hard right’s growing preoccupation with climate denial and fossil fuels, the voice of Elon has got to be a top candidate.
In the pixels of Canada’s National Observer we covered Canada’s fork in the road.
- At a forum with Fatih Birol from the International Energy Agency, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson described two paths: one “acknowledges the reality of climate change” and involves seriously planning for a decarbonized economy. The second approach he calls ‘hope for the best’ and ‘bet on technology that will save us.’”
Catherine Abreu, a member of Canada’s Net-Zero Advisory Body acknowledged progress but wondered aloud when we’ll get on the serious path: “We've got this bedrock foundation of policy progress … (but) we're not actually having that transformative action, and so right now we're de facto making the choice to rely on technological solutions.”
- The New York City pension fund took on RBC over the bank’s lack of climate planning. Investors for Paris Compliance revealed that Canada’s biggest investors — who claim there’s no need for divestment because they’re “engaging” — are largely failing to vote in line with their climate commitments.
- Aliénor Rougeot dives into the sickening reality of oilsands tailings ponds. Timely, given government is considering regulations that could allow wastewater into the Athabasca River.
- Morgan Sharp reports on plant-based “salmon” that looks and tastes like the real thing but never swam a day in its life.
- The tireless climate brawler, Gerald Kutney, unpacked how climate science is a victim of gaslighting.
- Rochelle Baker reports that Canada is under pressure to ban deep-sea mining, as demand rises for critical minerals. There’s a big conference convening in Vancouver and west coast states Oregon, Washington and California have all declared bans on deep seabed mining in their territorial waters.
- Barry Saxifrage charts the stunning amount of climate pollution extracted per capita in Canada. Worried about coal in China? You should be. But know that Canadians dig up six times more climate pollution per person.
- Our Climate Desk partners at The Guardian warn we should brace ourselves for hellish El Niño heat waves this year.
- Natasha Bulowski reports that amid environmental woes and ongoing opposition, the bill for the Coastal GasLink pipeline has climbed to $14.5B. “The Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish, B.C., has similarly seen construction cost estimates rise from $2.8 billion in 2015 to $6.6 billion at present.”
In related news, LNG Canada — the liquefied gas terminal the Coastal GasLink pipeline is meant to supply — is now trying to “bully goverments into subsidizing emissons reductions,” claiming its expansion cannot actually run on electric power, as previously advertised.
“The global top 10 per cent are responsible for almost half of global carbon emissions,” reports Thomas Piketty’s World Inequality Lab.
The emissions divide is now greater within countries than between them. And the top global one per cent are responsible for more emissions than the entire bottom half of the world’s population. There’s a silver lining inside that brutal math: “The carbon budgets needed to eradicate poverty are equal to roughly one third of the current emissions attributable to the top 10% of global emitters.”
Stove wars and tobacco science
The culture war over gas stoves reached new heights of absurdity this week. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wants to make gas stoves tax-free to own the libs.
a reminder: Florida is one of the states that is least reliant on gas for cooking. Just 8%. The infrastructure for a big spike in gas stoves in Florida simply does not exist. https://t.co/xj6zGPFoac— Rebecca Leber (@rebleber) February 1, 2023
The New York Times exposed the gas industry’s go-to voice:
What a scoop by @HirokoTabuchi: the leading 'scientific' voice saying "gas stoves are safe" is actually a toxicologist hired by the American Gas Association.— Jamie Henn (@jamieclimate) January 30, 2023
Her previous client? Philip Morris. https://t.co/oc3SSvRie2
Consumer Reports announced the results of head-to-head testing of gas versus induction stoves: “CR’s testing finds induction offers superior performance, with fewer possible health risks, too.”
Wind, solar, batteries: cheaper than gas
Clean Energy Canada analyzed electricity grids in Ontario and Alberta and found gas plants are more expensive than renewables paired with batteries.
The Doug Ford government is looking to buy 1,500 megawatts of gas-fired peaker plants and has guaranteed them payment, even if they have to shut down.
“It makes no climate or economic sense to build gas plants when we’ve got these cleaner and lower cost options to keep the lights on,” Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance told the Toronto Star.
If you could use a lift, check out this segment from Global News profiling some decidedly mainstream Albertans stoked about their town’s solar initiatives.
☀️💰 A village in sunny Alberta is now "reaping the financial benefits" of going #solar.— Clean Energy Canada (@cleanenergycan) February 1, 2023
“Rather than having an expense, we now have a revenue stream... It’s a no brainer,” said Stirling’s mayor.#ABpoli #CostOfLivingCrisis #renewableenergy #cdnpoli https://t.co/bDEJcH4Axu
The Guilbeault doctrine
I’ll leave you with John Woodside’s profile of Steven Guilbeault, our federal minister of environment and climate change: The Guilbeault Doctrine: A cabinet minister finds the limits and power of compromise. There’s lots of talk about the need for more climate hawks in politics. It turns out, those climate hawks have to navigate politics:
“It was apparent Canada’s environment and climate change minister was making waves when the White House called Ottawa to ask if he knew what he was really saying.”
That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading Zero Carbon. Please forward it along and always feel free to write with feedback or suggestions for future newsletters at [email protected]
Support for this issue of Zero Carbon came from The McConnell and Trottier foundations and I-SEA.