It's Back to Fossil Fuel Emissions as Usual as Lockdowns Ease

ON 03/25/2021 AT 12:55 AM

The International Energy Agency calculates global oil demand will exceed pre-pandemic levels in just two years, despite warnings it will accelerate the climate crisis further.

Climate Change

Photo: Pixabay

A new report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) demonstrates that we have once again learned nothing from significantly lowered fossil fuel use during the last twelve months of the pandemic.

It says that oil demand is rising again throughout the world, even without air transportation back on track and many countries’ economies still sagging as consumer demand for goods eased. It calculates that oil consumption could reach a record-setting daily rate of 100 million barrels by 2023.

Increased fossil fuel consumption is, according to the report, growing at the fastest rate regionally within Asia’s developing nations. That demand is driven by higher population growth rates and a reappearance of increased disposable income in those regions.

The report notes that despite “rapid changes in behavior: from new working-from-home models to cuts in business and leisure air travel”, and “more and more governments are focusing on the potential for a sustainable recovery to accelerate momentum towards a low-carbon future”, all that appears to be seeping into the background as economies restart their collective fiscal engines.

The analysis does conclude that gasoline use will likely not exceed 2019 consumption rates for the foreseeable future, which is at least some positive news for the environment. A global shift to electric vehicles is one reason. Mandated operating efficiency gains in vehicles still powered by gasoline and diesel is another. Aviation fuel use is projected to exceed 2019 levels by 2024, the authors say, but they also note that with online meetings having replaced many past in-person trips, it is likely business travel will never be as extensive as it used to be.

Delays in infrastructure investments globally have and will continue to drive major cutbacks in construction-related fossil fuel use for some time as well.

Still, despite the opportunity to use the past year as one of retrofitting with cleaner energy alternatives around the world – or at least laying in place plans for them, that category of investment also lagged broadly during the first year of the pandemic. The report points out that the “green” investment splurge which followed the financial crisis of 2008 has mostly died back now. It was especially impacted in the United States during the Trump team’s time in office, when virtually anything related to fossil fuels, including even drilling in the precious Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, was given a green light to proceed. Almost nothing was encouraged in the area of renewable energy investment or curtailing of fossil fuel emissions during those four years.

What this all means is that in 2021, oil demand will rise from its beginning point by a net of 5.5 million barrels a day, a near record increase in demand. Average consumption for the year is projected to by 96.6 million barrels a day.

The IEA’s projections beyond that show oil demand will continue to spike upwards at least to 2026. By that time, the agency projects average consumption rates of 104 million barrels a day. It also says this growth will be easily 4 million barrels a day more than pre-pandemic levels in early 2019.

The surge in oil and gas use around the globe over the next five years is bad news for the environment generally and an ongoing pressure point for atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions growth. Unfortunately for us all, even if that surge were somehow magically curtailed, secondary climate crisis effects -- such as underwater methane seeps, widespread permafrost exposure, and uncontrollable wildfires due to drought and high heat on virtually every continent – are already setting the stage for a very tough future ahead for the planet.