Oil and gas companies are facing a critical challenge as the world increasingly shifts towards clean energy transitions. Fossil fuels drive the companies’ near-term returns, but failure to address growing calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could threaten their long-term social acceptability and profitability.
The oil and gas industry now needs to make clear what clean energy transitions mean for it – and what it can do to accelerate clean energy transitions.
Whatever path the world follows in its efforts to limit the rise in global temperatures, intensifying climate impacts will increase the pressure on all industries to find solutions. While some oil and gas companies have taken steps to support efforts to combat climate change, the industry as a whole could play a much more significant role through its engineering capabilities, financial resources and project-management expertise, according to the IEA’s Oil and Gas Industry in Energy Transitions report, which was released today.
“No energy company will be unaffected by clean energy transitions,” said Dr Fatih Birol. “Every part of the industry needs to consider how to respond. Doing nothing is simply not an option.”
The landscape of the oil and gas industry is diverse, meaning there is no single strategic response but a variety of approaches depending on each company’s circumstances.
“The first immediate task for all parts of the industry is reducing the environmental footprint of their own operations,” Dr Birol said. “As of today, around 15% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions come from the process of getting oil and gas out of the ground and to consumers. A large part of these emissions can be brought down relatively quickly and easily.”
Reducing methane leaks to the atmosphere is the single most important and cost-effective way for the industry to bring down these emissions. But there are ample other opportunities to lower the emissions intensity of delivered oil and gas by eliminating routine flaring and integrating renewables and low-carbon electricity into new upstream and LNG developments.
“Also, with their extensive know-how and deep pockets, oil and gas companies can play a crucial role in accelerating deployment of key renewable options such as offshore wind, while also enabling some key capital-intensive clean energy technologies – such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage and hydrogen – to reach maturity,” Dr Birol added. “Without the industry’s input, these technologies may simply not achieve the scale needed for them to move the dial on emissions.”
Some oil and gas companies are diversifying their energy operations to include renewables and other low-carbon technologies. However, average investment by oil and gas companies in non-core areas has so far been limited to around 1% of total capital spending, with the largest outlays going to solar PV and wind. Some oil and gas companies have also diversified by acquiring existing non-core businesses – for example in electricity distribution, electric-vehicle charging, and batteries – while stepping up research and development activity. But overall, there are few signs of the large-scale change in capital allocation needed to put the world on a more sustainable path.
An essential task is to step up investment in the fuels – such as hydrogen, biomethane and advanced biofuels – that can deliver the energy system benefits of oil and gas without net carbon emissions. Within 10 years, these low-carbon fuels would need to account for around 15% of overall investment in fuel supply if the world is to get on course to tackle climate change. In the absence of low-carbon fuels, transitions become much harder and more expensive.
“The scale of the climate challenge requires a broad coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is genuinely committed to reducing emissions,” said Dr Birol. “That effort requires the oil and gas industry to be firmly and fully on board.”
Low-carbon electricity will undoubtedly move to centre stage in the future energy mix. But investment in oil and gas projects will still be needed, even in rapid clean energy transitions. If investment in existing oil and gas fields were to stop completely, the decline in output would be around 8% per year. This is larger than any plausible fall in global demand, so investment in existing fields and some new ones remains part of the picture.
In some cases, company owners may favour sticking with a specialisation in oil and gas – possibly shifting more towards natural gas over time – for as long as these fuels are in demand and investment returns are sufficient. But these companies will also need to think through their strategic response to new and pervasive challenges. The stakes are particularly high for national oil companies charged with the stewardship of countries’ hydrocarbon resources – and for their government owners and host societies that typically rely heavily on the associated oil income.
National oil companies account for well over half of global production and an even larger share of reserves. Some are high performing, but many are poorly positioned to adapt to changing global energy dynamics. Global energy trends have prompted a number of countries to renew their commitment to reform and to diversify their economies, and fundamental changes to development models in many major resource holders look unavoidable. National oil companies can provide important elements of stability for economies during this process, if they are operating effectively and alert to the risks and opportunities.
This report was produced in cooperation with the World Economic Forum (WEF). It will be presented to government and industry leaders during the WEF’s Annual Meeting in Davos on January 21.
Global economy projected to show fastest growth in 50 years
The global economy is expected to bounce back this year with growth of 5.3 per cent, the fastest in nearly five decades, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
In its new report released on Wednesday, the agency said that the rebound was highly uneven along regional, sectoral and income lines, however.
During 2022, UNCTAD expects global growth to slow to 3.6 per cent, leaving world income levels trailing some 3.7 per cent below the pre-pandemic trend line.
The report also warns that growth deceleration could be bigger than expected, if policymakers lose their nerve or answer what it regards as misguided calls for a return to deregulation and austerity.
Differences in growth
The report says that, while the response saw an end to public spending constraints in many developed countries, international rules and practices have locked developing countries into pre-pandemic responses, and a semi-permanent state of economic stress.
Many countries in the South have been hit much harder than during the global financial crisis. With a heavy debt burden, they also have less room for maneuvering their way out through public spending.
Lack of monetary autonomy and access to vaccines are also holding many developing economies back, widening the gulf with advanced economies and threatening to usher in another “lost decade”.
“These widening gaps, both domestic and international, are a reminder that underlying conditions, if left in place, will make resilience and growth luxuries enjoyed by fewer and fewer privileged people,” said Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of UNCTAD.
“Without bolder policies that reflect reinvigorated multilateralism, the post-pandemic recovery will lack equity, and fail to meet the challenges of our time.”
Lessons of the pandemic
UNCTAD includes several proposals in the report that are drawn from the lessons of the pandemic.
They include concerted debt relief and even cancellation in some cases, a reassessment of fiscal policy, greater policy coordination and strong support for developing countries in vaccine deployment.
Even without significant setbacks, global output will only resume its 2016-19 trend by 2030. But even before COVID-19, the income growth trend was unsatisfactory, says UNCTAD. Average annual global growth in the decade after the global financial crisis was the slowest since 1945.
Despite a decade of massive monetary injections from leading central banks, since the 2008-9 crash, inflation targets have been missed. Even with the current strong recovery in advanced economies, there is no sign of a sustained rise in prices.
After decades of a declining wage share, real wages in advanced countries need to rise well above productivity for a long time before a better balance between wages and profits is achieved again, according to the trade and development body’s analysis.
Food prices and global trade
Despite current trends on inflation, UNCTAD believes the rise in food prices could pose a serious threat to vulnerable populations in the South, already financially weakened by the health crisis.
Globally, international trade in goods and services has recovered, after a drop of 5.6 per cent in 2020. The downturn proved less severe than had been anticipated, as trade flows in the latter part of 2020 rebounded almost as strongly as they had fallen earlier.
The report’s modelling projections point to real growth of global trade in goods and services of 9.5 per cent in 2021. Still, the consequences of the crisis will continue to weigh on the trade performance in the years ahead.
For director of UNCTAD’s globalization and development strategies division, Richard Kozul-Wright, “the pandemic has created an opportunity to rethink the core principles of international economic governance, a chance that was missed after the global financial crisis.”
“In less than a year, wide-ranging US policy initiatives in the United States have begun to effect concrete change in the case of infrastructure spending and expanded social protection, financed through more progressive taxation. The next logical step is to take this approach to the multilateral level.”
The report highlights a “possibility of a renewal of multilateralism”, pointing to the United States support of a new special drawing rights (SDR) allocation, global minimum corporate taxation, and a waiver of vaccine-related intellectual property rights.
UNCTAD warns, though, that these proposals “will need much stronger backing from other advanced economies and the inclusion of developing country voices if the world is to tackle the excesses of hyperglobalization and the deepening environmental crisis in a timely manner.”
For the UN agency, the biggest risk for the global economy is that “a rebound in the North will divert attention from long-needed reforms without which developing countries will remain in a weak and vulnerable position.”
Italy: Pro-growth reforms and government support key to a greener and jobs-rich recovery
The post-COVID recovery offers an exceptional opportunity for Italy to tackle long-standing obstacles to job creation and the raising of living standards, according to a new OECD report.
The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Italy says government support for Italian households and businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic should continue until the recovery is firmly underway, but should become increasingly targeted as the economy continues to strengthen. It says that generous fiscal support has been effective in mitigating job losses and preserving productive capacity. This will help boost the short-term recovery as vaccination rates accelerate and restrictions ease. Higher public spending, including from Next Generation EU funds, will support higher investment alongside improved confidence and demand.
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan offers a unique opportunity to create a greener, more digitised and productive economy, the report adds. The government, it says, has an ambitious agenda rightly prioritising reforms to competition, to boost the efficiency of civil justice processes and to reform the public sector in order to tackle uncertainty, delays and costs that currently hamper investment. Green infrastructure and broadband investments can improve the competitiveness of Italian firms.
The report suggests that the chances of implementing this reform plan successfully are greater than on previous occasions. Clear implementation milestones and targets linked to the disbursement of Next Generation EU funds have been publicised, while recently passed laws to simplify green investments and support decision-making will help facilitate successful implementation of the plan.
The OECD projects Italy’s economic growth to be 5.9% this year and 4.1% in 2022, following an 8.9% fall in GDP in 2020. A stronger-than-expected second quarter explains the upward revision from the 4.5% expansion forecast for 2021 in the OECD’s May Economic Outlook.
Presenting the report alongside Italy’s Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco today, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said: “Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan is activating stronger, greener, fairer and more digitised growth that will benefit all Italians with improved opportunities to get ahead. A more effective public sector is crucial for ensuring its success. The plan must be fully implemented and complemented with reforms to support further growth, including with more investment in green infrastructure and R&D and reforms to keep driving the effective digital transformation of the Italian economy.”
The report recommends that once the pandemic subsides, public spending and tax policy must be reformed to complement the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. Currently, pension-related expenses crowd out investment in infrastructure, education and training, penalising the young, many of whom are out of work and at risk of poverty.
Labour force participation remains particularly low for women, especially those with children. Access to quality childcare and adult skills training needs to be improved across all regions, the report says.
Compared with the OECD average, taxes on labour remain too high. The report recommends implementing comprehensive tax reform to reduce the complexity of the system and to lower labour taxes. This should be financed through improved compliance – driven by greater use of technology and card payments.
Raising the effectiveness of Italy’s public sector is more urgent than ever. The report says that fully implementing the National Recovery and Resilience Plan will help fill skills gaps in the public sector, further its digitisation and reduce regulatory barriers that inhibit civil servants’ ability to deliver.
The report welcomes the set up for the Plan’s implementation and says the administration would generally become stronger and more agile by reducing the number of existing rules, regulating the services sector and green economy with a stronger focus on outcomes, in line with the government’s priorities and that support sustained growth. The report also recommends encouraging better coordination across Italy’s multiple layers of government.
Lao PDR: Economic Fallout from COVID-19 Deepened
Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and from the efforts to contain it, deepened in Lao PDR over the second quarter of 2021 as work fell off abruptly and households and businesses reported declines in income and revenue, according to the latest round of the World Bank’s Rapid Monitoring Phone Survey.
The survey, conducted in April-May this year with 2,000 randomly selected households, shows that 51% of survey respondents reported being without work or having had to stop working in April–May 2021, up from 17% in February–March 2021. In the services sector, more than half of workers in wholesale and retail trade and other services had to stop working or switch jobs during the lockdown, according to the survey.
By May 2021, 5.5% of businesses had permanently closed, while 33% were temporarily shuttered. Among businesses that remained in operation, 65% experienced a fall in revenue from pre-lockdown levels. Also in May, around 43% of households experienced a decline in household income relative to before lockdown, leading respondents to express growing concern about food insecurity for people in their communities.
This was the third round of the COVID-19 Rapid Monitoring Phone Surveys of Households in Lao PDR. The surveys are aimed at monitoring the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. The results help provide insights into the effects of the pandemic on household well-being, and feed into policy advice and analytical studies such as the latest edition of the Lao Economic Monitor. Similar surveys are being carried out in 64 countries across the world.
The first round of the Lao phone surveys was conducted in June to July 2020, when the country had just exited the initial nationwide lockdown, and the second round ran from February to March 2021, one year into the pandemic. More details are available on the World Bank’s Lao PDR website. The monitoring is part of a wider health response to the pandemic. The Bank is coordinating a $33 million COVID-19 response project in Laos, supported by various development partners under the guidance of the Ministry of Health.
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