Global warming: What's the better answer? ( Part 2)

Samuele Furfari
Fossil fuels: Fossil fuels, which currently meet more than 80 percent of the world's energy needs, will remain the backbone of global energy production for the foreseeable future.
Samuele Furfari

HOW the world uses energy is a hot topic for a warming planet, and fears of pollution and resource strain have produced a virtual arms race of energy-efficiency strategies.

Many economies are vowing to reduce their energy intensity with the help of technological innovations and legislative changes. Yet, despite these promises, consumer demand for energy is forecast by the International Energy Agency to rise until at least 2040.

With the world’s energy needs growing, how can policymakers guarantee supply? To put it bluntly, the world has nothing to worry about when it comes to reserves. After 40 years of fearing energy shortages, we have entered an era of abundance.

Samuele Furfari

Misplaced anxiety

Today’s energy “crisis” stems not from shortages, but from anxiety over pollution.

But this anxiety has not slowed our exploration habits. On the contrary, politics and international law, like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, have been adapted to enable discovery.

Perhaps the biggest technology-driven upheaval for global energy markets in recent years has come from shale gas and shale oil production in the United States. At 8.8 million barrels per day, US oil production is now higher than that of Iraq and Iran combined. US shale gas is being delivered to Asia, Latin America, and parts of Europe.

Wind and solar are often presented as alternatives to oil and gas, but they cannot compete with traditional sources for electricity generation. If they could, there would be no reason for the EU to support renewable energy production through legislation. Moreover, while wind and solar technologies generate electricity, the biggest energy demand comes from heating. In the EU, for example, electricity represents only 22 percent of final energy demand, while heating and cooling represents 45 percent; transportation accounts for the remaining 33 percent.

All of these factors help explain why fossil fuels, which currently meet more than 80 percent of the world’s energy needs, will remain the backbone of global energy production for the foreseeable future. This may not come as welcome news to those pushing for an immediate phase-out of hydrocarbons. But perhaps some solace can be gained from the fact that technological innovation will also play a key role in reducing the negative impacts on air and water quality.

Energy policy will remain on the agenda for advanced economies for many years to come. But as countries work to balance security of supply with environmental goals, they must also commit to getting their facts straight.

Samuele Furfari is a professor of the geopolitics of energy at Université libre de Bruxelles, and author of The Changing World of Energy and the Geopolitical Challenges. Copyright: Project Syndicate, Shanghai Daily condensed the article.

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