Climate alarmists want oil and gas sector to embrace own extinction

Printer-friendly version
Appeared in the Calgary Sun, January 3, 2024
Climate alarmists want oil and gas sector to embrace own extinction

In the long debate over climate change, there have been two broad rivers of thought. The dominant stream of thought held by governments, NGOs and the United Nations is that the “solution” to climate change lies in radical curtailment of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at any cost. The current fixation is to bring global GHG emissions to “net zero” by 2050.

The other stream of thought, held mainly by energy firms that recognize climate risk and the need to prevent atmospheric GHG build up, is that the answer lies in technologies such as “carbon capture” and storage where CO2 emissions from industrial processes can be captured and piped into underground reservoirs and (in theory) not affect the climate. A related concept is the direct air capture of CO2 where CO2 is either sequestered underground or bound up into solids such as limestone. Climate alarmists deride these ideas in part because they would help keep the oil and gas industry in business.

Not surprisingly, just before last month’s “COP28” UN climate change conference, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report that relegates carbon capture and storage to the very fringes of climate change action in favour of a polite request that the oil and gas sector basically embrace its own extinction.

On carbon capture and storage, Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, observes that if “oil and natural gas consumption were to evolve as projected under today’s policy settings, limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 °C would require an entirely inconceivable 32 billion tonnes of carbon captured for utilisation or storage by 2050, including 23 billion tonnes via direct air capture. The amount of electricity needed to power these technologies would be greater than the entire world’s electricity demand today.”

Birol’s right—it’s indeed fantastical to believe in such levels of carbon capture and storage deployed over 25 years or so. But the IEA’s preferred approach for controlling GHG emissions is equally fantastical—specifically, that the oil and gas sector stops investing in oil/gas and shifts to non-carbon energy production (again, essentially industry suicide). Birol notes that “producers looking to align with the aims of the Paris Agreement would need to put 50% of their capital expenditures towards clean energy projects by 2030, on top of the investment required to reduce emissions from their own operations.” According to the IEA, the oil and gas sector’s current investments in clean energy comprise only 2.5 per cent of total capital spending, so hitting 50 per cent would require 20-fold growth in seven years.

While I agree with the IEA’s derision of carbon capture and storage (I have long been skeptical of the idea), Birol’s suggestion that a major sector of the global economy will put itself out of business so the world can achieve the UN’s arbitrary target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is equally off-base.

The world will need fossil fuels for many decades to fuel the economic growth that societies need to meet their basic needs. Rather than destroying the global economy by extinguishing GHG emissions, the IEA and others should reconsider their completely implausible timelines and extremist approach and instead help the world prepare to adapt to a potentially warmer climate. Asking the attendees at COP28, which included Canada’s environment minister, to change their approach is at least as realistic as asking the oil and gas industry—and countries dependent on oil and gas—to embrace their own extinction.