Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Hard choices

The Guardian newspaper reported recently (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/09/peak-oil-international-energy-agency) that a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency (IEA) is claiming that the IEA is deliberately underplaying the rate of decline from existing oil fields due to US pressure and fears that the market would go into chaos.

This is huge! the IEA Energy Outlook is used by governments around the world (including the UK government) as a tool for guiding energy and climate change policies.

The IEA Energy Outlook 2009 was released on Nov 10 and can be found here(http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/) The press release and the Climate Change Excerpt do not make pleasant reading.

The prediction that the current level of oil output can be raised from it's current 83m barrels a day to 105m barrels a day seems questionable and some of the assumptions for future scenarios including the "greener" 450 scenario, which assumes fossil fuel demand peaking by 2020 and zero carbon sources accounting for a third of global primary sources of energy, along with all the investment needed, seem unlikely to my cynical eyes, and the report by the Peak Oil Group(http://peakoiltaskforce.net/),(http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/oct/29/fossil-fuels-oil) an industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security, which reportedly states that the UK could be hit by a major energy crisis within 5 years or even as early as 2011 is frankly terrifying.

The recent report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (Imeche) (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8358077.stm)illustrates some of the challenges facing us. The report says that the government's targets are unacheivable, that there just is not enough time or infrastructure (eg wind turbines or other forms of generating power) capacity to meet the targets set out in the Climate Change Act (80% cut in emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2050 with an interim target 0f a 34% reduction by 2020)

The report points out that the UK will be competing for the resources to build the necessary infrastructure in a global market, where many nations are trying to de-carbonize (leading to competition and price rises and increased profits for the shareholders no doubt) and also calls for massive investment in green infrastructure/projects, including geoengineering such as artificial trees.

It is difficult to see where this money will come from. With our millitary costs and commitments to superficial projects such as the London Olympics as well as the economic crisis and the needs of the NHS, not forgetting our contributions to the international climate change fund when/if it happens. (Of course this is looking at things from a very nationalistic viewpoint,much of the competition grows directly out of the construct of statehood.)

We have a very limited time to make some very hard decisions and investments that will be absolutely critical in the coming decades and we must choose wisely.

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