In the 1990s, I was invited to speak at a conference hosted by the Australian Government’s Office of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE) and was a little surprised to see an important security presence. That was of course before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and while economists can certainly do a lot of damage (old Reagan joke), that struck me as excessive. In fact, I was told, the previous year, farmers had driven cattle to the site to protest the beef price forecasts. Apparently, farmers believed beef prices were not predicted, but determined, by economists.
Today, a group of 150 organizations from five continents representing “millions of people” (out of 8 billion?) Issued an open letter urging the IEA to revise its Global energy outlook and “Position the Net Zero scenario by 2050 as the central scenario” and “Strengthen the Net Zero scenario by 2050 by reducing the excessive dependence on carbon capture and storage (CCS), fossil gas, nuclear energy and bioenergy ”.[i]
The first point apparently assumes that if the Net Zero scenario is treated as central in the Outlook, then policymakers will take it more seriously than before, as if they couldn’t bother to get past Chapter 3 and now slap it. their foreheads and exclaim, “Oh, this is what I have to do! ”
Or perhaps it is the impulse of Fatal Attraction: “You have to be careful! I know that many in the peak oil community attacked the IEA for not “recognizing” or “accepting” their theories. Which implies that this letter is only a gesture: the IEA Global energy outlook is analytical and prescriptive, but does not represent actual policy. The #FixtheWEO should be #ImplementNetZeroPolicies if they were really trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, maybe the IEA will listen and change the placement of the scenarios in the World Energy Outlook, but I’ve read these reports since the publication of the first one and believe me their analysis tends to be top notch (in part compared to the horrible performance of most other predictions and scenarios), but that doesn’t really motivate a lot of policies. Fossil fuel subsidies do not go and go depending on the Global energy outlook, which has pushed for their abandonment for decades, but no longer because of the economic and political realities that underlie them.
What bothers me most, however, is the 150’s insistence that carbon capture and storage, fossil gas, nuclear power, and bioenergy be excluded from the scenarios. The letter is openly concerned about how “bioenergy production is linked to land grabbing and human rights violations, food insecurity, increased greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse and biodiversity loss ”. Renewable energies should instead be supported, they insist.
Yet renewables are much more land-intensive than other sources and would hardly mean less food insecurity. Worse yet, one of the letter’s biggest sponsors is Greenpeace, which has long supported anti-scientific opposition to genetically modified organisms in agriculture. This opposition has dramatically increased land use and food insecurity in many parts of the world, contradicting their alleged concern over bioenergy.
Likewise, opposition to carbon capture represents nothing more than a false moral position, which they disguise as an argument in favor of restoring ecosystems to capture carbon. Industrial carbon capture does not in any way exclude ecosystem restoration and again, renewable energies often degrade ecosystems because of their intensive land requirements.
Finally, to insist that an increase in nuclear energy should not be seen as an alternative source of low carbon energy (there is no zero carbon energy), is totally no. scientist. It has a much smaller footprint than other power sources and is very likely to see much lower costs in the future (see my next column), which makes it more attractive.
Since the IEA performs scenario analysis, testing different hypotheses on policies and technological developments, considering the hypotheses of no nuclear power versus high nuclear power is not unreasonable, and indeed, others have. But if I don’t object to increasing the IEA’s budget enough to test a multitude of scenarios, it has long been argued that policymakers find it difficult to focus on more than two or three.
Ultimately, I would advise the “150” that in my experience the IEA does not change its scenarios or forecasts based on outside pressure. After all, I’ve spent over three decades arguing that their oil price forecast is too high, with no appreciable impact – except that they’ve stopped asking me to comment on their plans!