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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

More ambitious climate action needed from the fossil fuel industry

29/11/2023

5 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund Photo: EDF
 
Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund

Photo: EDF
 

The climate crisis requires a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use over the next 30 years, says Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund. What’s more, there is a crucial need for the oil and gas sector to reduce methane emissions as well as CO2.

The oil and gas industry is often seen as a villain in the climate change story. Globally, only about 20% of people consider fossil fuel companies trustworthy, according to the Ipsos Global Trust Worthiness Monitor report. The industry says it wants to be part of the solution to the climate crisis but given these views – and companies’ financial incentives to keep pumping fossil fuels – the world will require evidence in the form of ambitious action.

 

Recent headlines have not been encouraging. Exxon just spent $60bn to buy a company with major natural gas assets. Days later, Chevron bought Hess, another big oil and gas producer. A recent UN report also points to increased oil production through 2030.

 

The geopolitical context is part of the story. Wars in Europe and the Middle East are roiling global energy markets. Some political leaders and investors have become nervous, focusing only on the difficult threats making today’s headlines – instead of the linked crises of climate change, over-dependence on fossil fuels, and energy security that will shape our economies for decades.

 

But the world must reconcile itself to the basic fact that addressing the climate crisis requires a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use over the next 30 years. The energy industry needs to invest in alternatives to oil and gas in a serious way – and at a scale that meets a growing world’s need for energy.

 

It’s a tall order, but it is achievable. Investment in clean energy has risen by 40% since 2020, and we are on track to see a peak in global fossil fuel demand by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). This is real progress. What we need now is more, faster.

 

Another priority
There’s another crucial step that companies must take: to cut the billions of tonnes of methane pollution that comes from their operations, which is driving more than one-quarter of current global warming. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), we can’t meet our climate goals without dramatic reductions in methane pollution alongside aggressive action to reduce CO2.

 

Companies should start by agreeing to reduce methane emissions to 0.2% of natural gas production. That would mean a greater than 80% reduction for some firms. Taking that step would lead to a substantial cut in climate pollution and a measurable slowing of warming. And these companies should join the Oil & Gas Methane Partnership, which was established by the UN specifically to help operators reduce emissions.

 

There’s another crucial step that companies must take: to cut the billions of tonnes of methane pollution that comes from their operations, which is driving more than one-quarter of current global warming.

 

Given the public mistrust, some will question whether the commitments companies make will really be kept. The good news is that we are entering a new era in which technology allows for strict accountability. A subsidiary of the Environmental Defense Fund will soon launch a highly sophisticated methane detection satellite with the ability to locate sources of leaks and other emissions.

 

That data will be open to scientists, activists, journalists and citizens worldwide. Other organisations, including Carbon Mapper and GHGSat, are also deploying and operating satellites that will be a key part of this system of accountability.

 

As with many issues in our complex world, we will need to accept that there are no easy answers or easy labels. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels is essential – and at the same time, we must reduce methane pollution to save lives and limit warming.

 

We’ve heard countless business leaders talk about the need to leave a better world for the next generation. Some describe being lobbied by children and grandchildren to recognise the reality of the climate crisis. Changing hearts and minds is indeed important, but at this late date we need action. There is no substitute.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.