Global oil prices have crashed to record lows in recent days as demand plummets amid the enforced lockdown.
While a reduction in the volume of carbon entering the atmosphere may appear as welcome respite for the environment, a leading scientist at Heriot-Watt University warns the current market volatility may impact on a countries ability to meet emission targets, particularly in the developing world.
Writing in Energy Voice, Professor Eric Mackay, Director of the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering, says industries have reduced economic incentive to switch to renewable energy due to the availability of cheap oil.
The simple fact is that the best opportunity we have to decarbonise a suddenly fragile world economy within the timeframe mandated for emissions targets is to seize on the enthusiasm of the next generation of international energy professionals
Professor Mackay said: “The bad news is that reductions in oil prices will not help in decarbonising economies.
“While countries that are net importers of oil will benefit from lower prices, countries such as Ecuador, Iraq and Nigeria depend on oil for up to 98% of their export earnings, and may see these earnings drop by well over 50%. Paradoxically, they and other similar countries will simply not have the financial wherewithal to decarbonise their economies. The shock to the world economy also means that developing countries in general will have less available income to invest in alternative energy sources to displace hydrocarbons, especially coal.”
During lockdown in China analysis shows that CO2 emissions were reduced by 25% but, Professor Mackay added, it is likely that this will only be a temporary reduction in emissions.
He continued: “This will not do away with the need for longer-term action if emissions targets enshrined in law are to be met.
“There are perhaps other large scale changes in behaviour that if they persist beyond the pandemic will affect emissions, such as the extent to which we travel to work, and the extent to which we travel for work.”
The Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering at Heriot-Watt University is teaching the next generation of engineers, scientists and managers in the oil and gas industry. Professor Mackay says there is now an added imperative to train students how best to adapt their technical expertise and their business models to deliver energy that is both affordable and sustainable.
He said: “The simple fact is that the best opportunity we have to decarbonise a suddenly fragile world economy within the timeframe mandated for emissions targets is to seize on the enthusiasm of the next generation of international energy professionals. They are incredibly motivated to be responsible stewards of the planet they are inheriting, despite the current crisis. We need to give them the tools, the skills and the confidence to deliver what the current generation has not yet achieved. In the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering we will use our expertise in the management of subsurface energy systems to show this new generation how to engage urgently, realistically, responsibly and effectively in the Energy Transition.”