Renewable electricity may be only source to withstand biggest shock in 70 years because as reported by Jillian Ambrose Energy correspondent of The Guardian of April 30, 2020, Covid-19 crisis will wipe out demand for fossil fuels, says IEA.
Renewable electricity will be the only source resilient to the biggest global energy shock in 70 years triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the world’s energy watchdog.
The International Energy Agency said the outbreak of Covid-19 would wipe out demand for fossil fuels by prompting a collapse in energy demand seven times greater than the slump caused by the global financial crisis.
The steady rise of renewable energy combined with the collapse in demand for fossil fuels means clean electricity will play its largest ever role in the global energy system this year, and help erase a decade’s growth of global carbon emissions.
Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said: “The plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas. Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard of slump in electricity use.”
Demand for gas is expected to fall by 5%, after a decade of uninterrupted growth. It is the steepest drop since gas became widely used as an energy source in the second half of the previous century.
Coal demand is forecast to fall by 8% compared with 2019, its largest decline since the end of the second world war.
The Paris-based energy authority used data from every country and across each energy sector to analyse the impact of the pandemic on the global system.
It found that global energy demand was likely to plummet by 6% this year, the equivalent of losing the entire energy demand of India – the world’s third largest energy consumer – or the combined energy demand of France, Germany, Italy and the UK.
The impact of the pandemic on energy use will be more keenly felt in advanced economies where demand is expected to fall by 11% across the EU and 9% across the US.
The collapse of fossil fuel demand could lead global emissions to fall by 8% compared with 2019, a drop six times larger than the record fall after the financial crisis in 2009 to lows not seen in the past decade.
From its origin in Wuhan, China, COVID-19 has spread to become a predominantly urban-focused pandemic. Although much data on the pandemic is still unavailable, it is clear that urban areas have been at the epicentre.
We can seize this opportunity to improve how we build, organise and use cities. To do this, though, we need to look more closely at the urban spread of coronavirus to understand its impact on existing inequalities. We can also learn lessons from the past impact of epidemics on the most vulnerable urban populations.
It is already becoming clear that certain groups are being affected unequally. The poor and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable. Patterns of illness and death reflect urban social and economic geographies. Attention has focused on shielding the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, defined as being most at risk, but the reality is more complex.
Inequalities caused by ethnicity, religion and income often overlap, so that the proportions of elderly and vulnerable people vary by community and neighbourhood. A potential genetic factor in immunity is being investigated. However, the combination of social, economic and demographic factors together with the urban environment probably accounts for many of the observed infection patterns.
Minority groups are often over-represented among the urban poor. This means they are more likely to have poor diets, get inadequate exercise and to be overweight. This exposes them disproportionately to diabetes and other chronic cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, putting them at high risk.
Poor people also inhabit the lowest quality housing and areas of a city. They live at the highest densities and in the most cramped accommodation. These areas have higher air pollution levels, and poor quality or inaccessible utilities and services. They often have the smallest areas of open public spaces.
Green spaces such as parks have been recognised as vital for human health. But the people who need such spaces most – those without private gardens – have the least access. Parks serving these people have also come under greatest pressure during the lockdowns. Closing them rather than ensuring that people using them follow social distancing guidelines exacerbates the problem.
Risks of overcrowding
COVID-19 and similar viruses are passed on through contaminated moisture droplets from sneezing, coughing or heavy breathing. This means that people living in the same household as someone with the virus have a high likelihood of contracting it.
Almost everywhere, including the UK, large families living in the same household, including members of different generations such as grandparents, are more common among the urban poor and certain minorities. Shielding, self-isolation and social distancing are almost impossible to do in these circumstances. This highlights both the elevated vulnerability of those most at risk and the futility of preventative guidance that ignores these realities.
Institutions housing large numbers of residents are also potential transmission hotspots. Retirement and care homes present particular challenges – and the news is filled with the grim toll there.
Many cities in low- and middle-income countries will face even greater risks should the virus gain a foothold in urban shantytowns and high density areas. Strict preemptive lockdowns have been implemented in India, Kenya, South Africa and elsewhere, before the virus could gain a foothold. If this were to happen in the likes of Dharavi (Mumbai), Kibera (Nairobi) or Khayelitsha (Cape Town), the consequences would be horrific.
Hasty, reactive measures, such as closing all wet markets before the actual source of the virus is known, may prove misguided. It is urgent to think critically and to engage with the underlying issues identified here rather than superficial symptoms. Experience from previous epidemics and pandemics, such as bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera or influenza, can also provide important lessons.
One classic example is the place of 19th-century European cholera epidemics in stimulating the construction of piped water and sewerage systems. This followed the discovery in London that one contaminated drinking water point was the source of the 1854 outbreak. By contrast, in Hamburg, inaction after the 1873 cholera outbreak due to inertia, short-term self-interest from the rich and divided medical opinion led the city to suffer an even worse epidemic in 1892.
Health-driven urban renovation and infrastructural improvement can, however, also be implemented for political or sectarian motives. For instance, an outbreak of bubonic plague in Cape Town at the turn of the 20th century was blamed on the poor African victims by the colonial government and settler community. The outbreak was used to impose forced segregation. In the name of sanitation, the first urban “native location” was constructed outside the main city, where its population was easy to control.
Similar concerns are already being heard about wider potential political surveillance and control. Some governments have quickly implemented the use of mobile phone apps for COVID-19 contact tracing.
We have a unique opportunity to work towards fairer, more sustainable cities in the wake of coronavirus. Emergency government economic support packages must be used proactively. Global plans such as the New Urban Agenda, endorsed by the United Nations in 2016, can steer a shift to green, circular economies. And we can build robust resilience against diverse disasters and climate change – the long-term crisis we already know is looming.
Souha S. Kanj | Professor of medicine, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases, chair of the Infection Control and Prevention Program at the American University of Beirut Medical Center
The events related to the coronavirus outbreak are evolving quickly around the world. The situation in the Middle East is probably more complex than elsewhere. The countries of the region are a mix of rich and poor states, with variable GDPs and health infrastructures, and are frequently characterized by political instability and tension. War and violent conflicts have weakened health infrastructure in many countries. The influx of migrants through borders has contributed to healthcare related challenges. The region also has geopolitical and economic ties to both China and Iran, which recently appeared as the epicenters for the COVID-19 outbreak in the region.
There is a striking variation in the number of reported cases by country in the Middle East. Underreporting is thought to be prevalent, whether due to an unwillingness, and sometimes a lack of preparedness, to perform accurate testing. Syria, for example, has not reported any cases, despite its close ties to Iran. Its fragile health system is likely incapable of detecting and responding to the epidemic. The same applies to Yemen.
Some countries in the Middle East have raised the alert level during the past week by imposing school closures and other measures of social distancing. The Saudi authorities have cancelled the Umrah pilgrimage and access to Mecca to nonresidents until further notice. Some Gulf countries are requiring visa applicants to produce a negative test for COVID-19. Other countries are still reporting few cases. In Iran, the response was slow, suggesting an unwillingness to report cases before the country’s elections. Mortality among infected patients in Iran seems to be among the highest after China.
There is little to suggest that Middle Eastern countries have joined efforts to address this global viral threat. The Arab League has remained silent. No meetings have been announced to discuss the evolving situation. Arab countries in the Middle East have so far missed an opportunity to overcome political divisions and closely collaborate to contain the spread of the virus in the region. It might not be too late to engage in coordination, especially from the wealthier states, to provide technical, material, and financial assistance to their neighbors.
Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Nothing illustrates this more than the series of baffling policy decisions by Iran’s leadership that have resulted in the largest outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the region. Despite advances in the biomedical sciences and infectious disease control in the past century, the Iranian government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been hobbled by ideological, religious, and economic concerns.
Other countries in the Middle East have followed suit, often prioritizing their non-medical domestic and foreign policy interests in establishing travel bans, quarantines, and other forms of public health precautions. These religious, political, and economic determinants of infectious diseases hark back to the pre-World War I period in the region. Devotional visits to shrine cities and burials at holy sites played an important role in the dissemination of pandemic outbreaks in the Iranian and Ottoman Empires throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Similarly, political, economic, and religious interests often took precedence over public welfare in the way quarantines, travel bans, and disinfection policies were established within the empires and on their frontiers. This shows us that historic social and political forces continue to shape the impact of contagions on the peoples of the Middle East.
Basem al-Shabb | Former Lebanese parliamentarian, American Board in general and cardiothoracic surgery
The response to the COVID-19 epidemic in the Middle East has followed the usual script in the region for dealing with calamity. Whereas human suffering invites cooperation in other places, in the Middle East it seams to accentuate cultural and sectarian tensions. As reports of cases were trickling out of Iran, the authorities engaged in denial. Only recently did the Syrian Health Ministry confidently state that there were no known cases in Syria. In Lebanon, flights from Iran, the epicenter of the epidemic, continued unabated and screening at the airport was instituted rather late in the game. Throughout the region, there is an undercurrent of sectarianism. While Iran wrestles with a massive epidemic, Egypt has reported only a few cases and, interestingly, Turkey has reported none. There is hardly any cooperation or exchange of information on COVID-19 among the countries of the Levant.
The epidemic has also touched on religious sensitivities, with some churches in Lebanon insisting on pursuing communion using a single utensil. There is no doubt the coronavirus has brought out the usual regional reactions of denial, delayed responses, myth-mongering, sectarianism, as well as conspiracy theories.
Bader al-Saif | Nonresident fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, where his research focuses on the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula
The coronavirus outbreak is a potent reminder that the Middle East is no different than the rest of the world. The outbreak has reinforced preexisting tendencies in the region, where it is no secret that systems are largely broken. It has further exposed governmental weakness, evidenced in ambiguous, inconsistent policies. Crisis management and transparency are largely lacking, and so is the faith of citizens in governments’ ability to protect them. Political considerations have triumphed over necessary health directives in various states, putting citizens at further risk, whether by allowing the continuation of flights from high risk areas, such as Iranians traveling to Lebanon, or deferring necessary testing, as in Egyptians traveling to Kuwait. There are notable exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia, where the state has managed the outbreak of the coronavirus and peoples’ reactions to it.
Responses have ranged from denial to fear. Some assume the virus is a conspiracy theory, while others are misinformed about its nature. The virus has also justified racist slurs. With most of the Middle East contracting the virus via Iran, the anti-Iran camp has condemned Iran’s irresponsibility and poor services (ignoring the impact of U.S. sanctions), with some even suggesting that the virus is a Shi‘a phenomenon aimed at infecting the Sunni-majority Middle East.
There has been a third, more measured response among less ideological people. These include business owners, who are concerned about the economic impact of the outbreak; expatriates barred from returning to their homes due to travel bans; families who do not want their children’s education affected by prolonged breaks; and sensible policymakers who have sought to jointly coordinate responses. The outbreak has reminded Middle Easterners of their shortcomings. They patiently are awaiting a breakthrough that would end the coronavirus outbreak, so they can redirect their efforts to addressing other problems long plaguing the region.
Buildings kill millions of birds. Here’s how to reduce the toll
As high-rise cities grow upwards and outwards, increasing numbers of birds die by crashing into glass buildings each year. And of course, many others break beaks, wings and legs or suffer other physical harm. But we can help eradicate the danger by good design.
Most research into building-related bird deaths has been done in the United States and Canada, where cities such as Toronto and New York City are located on bird migration paths. In New York City alone, the death toll from flying into buildings is about 200,000 birds a year.
Across the US and Canada, bird populations have shrunk by about 3 billion since 1970. The causes include loss of habitat and urbanisation, pesticides and the effects of global warming, which reduces food sources.
And that’s where the problems start with high-rise buildings. Most of them are much taller than the height at which birds fly. In Melbourne, for example, Australia 108 is 316 metres, Eureka 300 metres, Aurora 270 metres and Rialto 251 metres. The list is growing as the city expands vertically.
The paradigm of high-rise gothams, New York City, has hundreds of skyscrapers, most with fully glass, reflective walls. One World Trade is 541 metres high, the 1931 Empire State is 381 metres (although not all glass) and even the city’s 100th-highest building, 712 Fifth Avenue, is 198 metres.
To add to the problems of this forest of glass the city requires buildings to provide rooftop green places. These attract roosting birds, which then launch off inside the canyons of reflective glass walls – often mistaking these for open sky or trees reflected from behind.
A problem of lighting and reflections
Most cities today contain predominantly glass buildings – about 60% of the external wall surface. These buildings do not rely on visible frames, as in the past, and have very limited or no openable windows (for human safety reasons). They are fully air-conditioned, of course.
Birds cannot recognise daylight reflections and glass does not appear to them to be solid. If it is clear they see it as the image beyond the glass. They can also be caught in building cul-de-sac courtyards – open spaces with closed ends are traps.
At night, the problem is light from buildings, which may disorientate birds. Birds are drawn to lights at night. Glass walls then simply act as targets.
Architectural elements like awnings, screens, grilles, shutters and verandas deter birds from hitting buildings. Opaque glass also provides a warning.
Birds see ultraviolet light, which humans cannot. Some manufacturers are now developing glass with patterns using a mixed UV wavelength range that alerts birds but has no effect on human sight.
New York City recently passed a bird-friendly law requiring all new buildings and building alterations (at least under 23 metres tall, where most fly) be designed so birds can recognise glass. Windows must be “fritted” using applied labels, dots, stripes and so on.
Combinations of methods are being used to scare or warn away birds from flying into glass walls. These range from dummy hawks (a natural enemy) and actual falcons and hawks, which scare birds, to balloons (like those used during the London Blitz in the second world war), scary noises and gas cannons … even other dead birds.
Researchers are using lasers to produce light ray disturbance in cities especially at night and on dark days.
Noise can be effective, although birds do acclimatise if the noises are produced full-time. However, noise used as a “sonic net” can effectively drown out bird chatter and that interference forces them to move on looking for quietness. The technology has been used at airports, for example.
A zen curtain developed in Brisbane has worked at the University of Queensland. This approach uses an open curtain of ropes strung on the side of buildings. These flutter in the breeze, making patterns and shadows on glass, which birds don’t like.
These zen curtains can also be used to make windows on a house safer for birds. However, such a device would take some doing for the huge structures of a metropolis.
More common, and best adopted at the design phase of a building, is to mark window glass so birds can see it. Just as we etch images on glass doors to alert people, we can apply a label or decal to a window as a warning to birds. Even using interior blinds semi-open will deter birds.
Birds make cities friendlier as part of the shared environment. We have a responsibility to provide safe flying and security from the effects of human habitation and construction, and we know how to achieve that.
This article has been updated to correct the figure for the estimated number of birds killed by the cats in the US to “up to 4 billion”, not 4 million.
The top ten emitting countries accounting for most of all Climate change impacts in the world are at this conjecture outside the MENA region but use most certainly fossil fuels originating for most from the MENA region. Climate change is not high enough on the agenda of most countries of the MENA region or anywhere else. If the MENA countries governments are serious about tackling climate change that presents challenges for the oil-producing and water-stressed region, they must quickly adapt the Best Tool to Fight Climate Change as elaborated here by Jeffrey Frankel in this article. It would, in our view, be complemented through technological innovations in areas such as solar power. In any case, the MENA region needs to put aside the current apathy towards climate change that is relatively common across the region’s countries and respond to the present challenges for the oil-producing and the non-oil producing alike.
If they are serious about tackling climate change, governments must quickly establish the expectation that the price of carbon will follow a generally rising path in the future. Lofty statements from public officials and optimal calculations from climate modelers will not do the job.
AMSTERDAM – Although many supporters of US President Donald Trump seemingly believe that global warming is a hoax, almost everyone else agrees that climate change should be at the top of the list of important policy issues. Identifying the problem, however, is not much use unless we also identify the appropriate tools to address it.
To be sure, financial institutions must fundamentally rethink some things in the light of climate change. For example, a bank or insurance company calculating risks to real-estate loans would make a serious mistake if it followed the standard methodology and plugged into its formulas the probability of a flood based on data from the last 100 years. Instead, it should take a forward-looking approach, which means using estimates of the increasingly elevated probability of such disasters.
But central banks and international financial institutions simply lack the necessary tools to have first-, second-, or maybe even third-order effects on greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions.
So, what policy tools would have first-order effects?
In the United States, the “Green New Deal” signals commitment to the climate cause. But I fear that the legislative proposal that its congressional supporters have introduced will do more harm than good. It includes extraneous measures such as a federal jobs guarantee. This proposal creates a factual basis for a lie that US climate-change deniers have long been telling: that global warming is a hoax promoted as an excuse to expand the size of government. That is a sure-fire way to generate votes for Trump in November.
Technological innovations in areas such as solar power certainly will play a big role in mitigation. But technology is not a policy. Subsidies are a policy. There is a case to be made that governments should subsidize research in climate science and relevant technologies. There is also a strong case that policymakers should allow free trade in solar panels, turbines, and other equipment, to lower the cost of generating renewable energy at no cost to domestic taxpayers.
But the policy that will move us closest to achieving global environmental targets, such as those in the Paris climate agreement, at relatively modest economic costs, is to raise the price of emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. If, for example, solar power or other renewables can in fact meet most of our energy needs at a reasonable cost, then a high carbon price will encourage that result. And if some other technology or approach is needed, the carbon price will reveal that as well.
The price of carbon can be raised via one of two policies: a carbon tax or cap-and-trade, that is, a system of quantitative emission limits with tradable emission permits.
In theory, the two approaches are equivalent: the quantity of carbon permits is calculated carefully, so that the resulting price when they are traded is the same as the price that would be achieved by the tax. In the real world, however, there are significant differences between regulating prices and quantities. The most important differences relate to uncertainty and political economy.
For starters, it would be great if policymakers could commit to a century-long rising path for the carbon price. People could then plan far ahead. Firms would know with certainty the penalty for building long-lasting coal-fired power plants. But, even assuming a miraculous burst of multilateral cooperation, today’s leaders cannot bind their successors 50 years into the future, which rules out precise certainty about the future price or quantity of GHG emissions.
What is critical, though, is quickly to establish the expectation that the price of carbon will follow a generally rising path in the future. To achieve this, governments must start increasing the price today; lofty statements from public officials and optimal calculations from climate modelers will not do the job.
Predicting political economy, meanwhile, is extremely difficult. In the climate-change arena, everything is judged to be “politically impossible,” and was even before Trump. Even so, at the global level governments are probably more likely to agree to quantitative emissiontargets – as in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris accord – than to a global carbon tax, which would be considered too severe an invasion of sovereignty.
When it comes to the national implementation of any global effort to limit CO2 emissions, however, I lean toward a carbon tax over tradable emission permits. Previous attempts to introduce emission permits, such as Europe’s Emissions Trading System, have revealed a tendency to mollify industry by issuing more permits than originally intended and giving too many to legacy firms. The logic of doing so is to “make them whole,” but this can result in windfall gains when the firms sell the permits.
In any case, putting the price of carbon on an upward path, whether via a carbon tax or cap-and-trade, is the right tool for the job.
Obviously, no single citizen can expect to solve the problem of climate change alone. But whereas some individual actions are mainly symbolic, others can have an effect that is at least proportionate to the number of citizens undertaking them.
For frustrated young people, one piece of advice is clear: while going to a Greta Thunberg-inspired demonstration is fine, registering and voting is critical. If Americans aged 18-24 were to turn out and vote in the same proportions as older age groups, Trump would almost certainly not be re-elected. With Trump gone, the US could rejoin the Paris agreement and adopt effective measures to combat global warming – and other governments would lose an excuse they currently have to delay action.
Jeffrey Frankel, Professor of Capital Formation and Growth at Harvard University, previously served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. He is a research associate at the US National Bureau of Economic Research, where he is a member of the Business Cycle Dating Committee, the official US arbiter of recession and recovery. Jeffrey Frankel has been writing for PS since 2000 with 159 Commentaries.
Despite regional turmoil, there are two critical areas of focus to work on simultaneously.
Despite 2020 looking to be a year of volatility, the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council expressed his optimism at the “remarkable” human potential of the MENA region.
In statements ahead of the fourth annual Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi, Frederick Kempe noted that despite regional turmoil, there are two critical areas of focus to work on simultaneously.
“One of them is to reduce conflict, to wind down the tensions of the region. But at the same time, you have to unlock the remarkable human potential of the Middle East and the GCC,” he said.
He told the Emirates News Agency (WAM), his predictions for 2020, noting that it would be a volatile year, particularly in the energy industry.
“Geopolitical uncertainty will play a larger role on energy prices this year,” Kempe added.
Reflecting on 2019 events, he noted, “It’s remarkable that energy prices have remained so low through everything we’ve gone through – Iranian sanctions, Libyan turmoil, Iraqi uncertainty.”
However, he added, “despite all that and partly because of the glut of oil we’ve had on the market, and the US oil and gas production, we’ve kept prices remarkably stable for a long period of time.”
“I think the big question is can that hold out in 2020,” he continued.
“You see prices rise by four percent when you get into a crisis, suddenly it seems as we’re in a de-escalatory phase if prices drop by five percent, and I think that’s what we’re going to see.”
Commenting on recent US-Iran tensions, and their impact on clean energy transitions, Kempe said, “A lot of people are focusing on the wrong lessons from the last few days. No doubt, there’s been a lot of tension.
“No doubt there was, for a period of time, increased risk of violent conflict. On the other hand, both parties stood back from that,” he added.
“No one in the region wants an escalation of the current tensions,” he stressed, adding, “Everyone that participated in de-escalating came to that. I think that’s promising.”
“I think all parties see no gain in war. The US doesn’t see any gain, Iran doesn’t see any gain; certainly, the Arab and GCC countries don’t see any gain,” the Atlantic Council President emphasised.
When asked to comment on how GCC countries, like the UAE, can play a role in the 2020 energy agenda, Kempe said, “If you look at the GDP of this region, and if you took the size of the Middle East population and put it anywhere in the world, you would have three times the GDP.”
World Bank figures indicate the GDP figures for the Middle East and North Africa reached $3.611 trillion in 2018.
“So imagine how much low-hanging fruit there is here and how much opportunity there is,” he said.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, figures, the adoption of renewable energy technologies created 11 million new jobs at the end of 2018.
When asked to comment on how countries and international bodies can partner further to see effective climate action, Kempe revealed that through the Council’s Adrienne Arsht Centre for Resilience, the MidEast Centre, and the Rockefeller Foundation, a new initiative will see one billion individuals become resilient to climate change, tensions and crises.
More details on the announcement will be made as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2020 next week.
The Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum is an international gathering of government, industry, and thought leaders to set the energy agenda for the year.
Taking place in the UAE capital from January 10-12, the 2020 iteration of the forum will focus on three key themes: the role of the oil and gas industry in the energy transition, financing the future of energy and interconnections in a new era of geopolitics.
Today, 8 January 2020, it appears that the US is more relaxed about oil spike than Europe – which helps explain differences over Iran, according to Mueid Al Raee, of United Nations University.
Oil prices shot up following the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, rising more than US$5 per barrel to more than US$71 (£54) on January 6, its highest level since the Saudi oil refinery attack last September. Brent crude has since eased to around US$69 at the time of writing, though there is much discussion that it could climb a lot higher if the current crisis leads to an all-out war.
In keeping with many recent developments in US-Iranian relations, the Europeans have taken a dim view of America’s decision to take out the military commander. When trying to make sense of the very different approaches Iran on either side of the Atlantic, one factor that is often overlooked is that the US and Europe are affected in different ways by a rising oil price.
People tend to see more expensive oil as bad news for the global economy, but the reality is that it’s not necessarily bad for America. It may be that, in continuing to provoke Iran, driving up the oil price is almost seen by the Americans as an added incentive.
The complex oil effect
Oil pricing and its associated effects are often more complex than portrayed. As citizens, we are most often concerned with the price of fuel for our cars and the cost of heating our homes. This is the first way that oil prices affect the broader economy: if consumers have to spend more on fuel and associated taxes, they have less to spend elsewhere – and this can lead to a global slowdown.
Like all countries, the US is affected by this. Yet on previous occasions where US actions on the geopolitical stage drove up oil prices, there were also benefits to the country’s economy. Take the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which ushered in a period that would see the price of Brent nearly triple by the end of the decade. This led to a wave of investment into the US shale oil sector, which would eventually account for approaching two-thirds of the country’s total oil production.
Brent crude price, 1940s to present day
The trouble with shale oil is that it is expensive to produce, with average break-even of fields not far below US$50 per barrel. Shale oil wells also produce most of their oil in the first year of production, which means that producers have to continually drill new wells.
Due to the lower prices of the last few years, a large number of oil-related companies in the US have filed for bankruptcy, including both producers and services businesses. And while US production of shale oil managed to continue rising impressively throughout this period, mainly thanks to the bigger producers, it has been slowing down markedly in recent months.
If the oil price now trends higher, it could well mean that shale oil production in the US can resume its upward march. It also raises the prospect of US oil services companies earning more both locally but, most importantly, from foreign oil-production ventures, since there is a well-established correlation between their stock price and higher oil prices.
At the same time, six of the last eight recessions in the US were followed by high oil prices. One reason why this was not a hindrance for the economy is that, in the longer term, stable higher prices promoted the development of more energy-efficient technologies within the country.
The Americans can also argue that there are some longer-term economic benefits to higher oil prices that can help everyone. Oil-producing countries with surplus cash from oil profits invest in foreign technology and foreign assets. At the same time, oil-importing countries innovate to mitigate the profit-reducing effects of higher oil prices. These are both ultimately good for economic vibrancy and growth.
On the other hand, there are advantages to cheaper oil that are particularly important to countries in Europe – including the UK – because, unlike America, they are not oil self-reliant. Lower oil prices are shown to be beneficial for Europe’s highly energy-intensive economies and are expected to help with job creation. During the oil price drops of 1986 and the early 1990s, for instance, energy-intensive industries in Europe increased their earnings. Consumer product businesses and European airlines benefit from lower oil prices, too.
What happens next
Whether or not the Americans actually want higher oil prices, there are certainly good economic reasons why they probably won’t mind them. Deepening the chaos that started with the US withdrawing from the West’s nuclear deal with Iran is an “easy” way to achieve higher oil prices while meeting other strategic objectives.
Yet how the Europeans, China and Russia respond will also determine the global flow of oil from Iran and Iraq. Whatever the ultimate pros and cons of a higher oil price from an economic point of view, the Europeans clearly have more reasons to be unenthusiastic than the US. If the new exchange and payment instruments that have been developed by Europe to circumvent US sanctions are effective, and the US does not escalate the conflict, it may yet mean that oil prices remain stable at current levels.
The central problem which the world faces in its attempts to avoid catastrophic climate change is a contrast of time scales. In order to save human civilization and the biosphere from the most catastrophic effects of climate change we need to act immediately. Fossil fuels must be left in the ground. Forests must be saved from destruction by beef or palm oil production.
These vitally necessary actions are opposed by powerful economic interests, by powerful fossil fuel corporations desperate to monetize their underground “assets”, and by corrupt politicians receiving money from the beef or palm oil industries.
However, although some disastrous effects of climate change are already visible, the worst of these calamities lie in the distant future. Therefore it is difficult to mobilize the political will for quick action. We need to act immediately, because of the danger of passing tipping points beyond which climate change will become irreversible despite human efforts to control it.
Tipping points are associated with feedback loops, such as the albedo effect and the methane hydrate feedback loop. The albedo effect is important in connection with whether the sunlight falling on polar seas is reflected or absorbed. While ice remains, most of the sunlight is reflected, but as areas of sea surface become ice-free, more sunlight is absorbed, leading to rising temperatures and further melting of sea ice, and so on, in a loop.
The methane hydrate feedback loop involves vast quantities of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, frozen in a crystalline form surrounded by water molecules. 10,000 gigatons of methane hydrates are at present locked in Arctic tundra or the continental shelves of the world’s oceans. Although oceans warm very slowly because of thermal inertia, the long-term dangers from the initiation of a methane-hydrate feedback loop are very great. There is a danger that a very large-scale anthropogenic extinction event could be initiated unless immediate steps are taken to drastically reduce the release of greenhouse cases.
The World Is on Fire!
“The world is on fire!” says Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. She is right. California is burning. The Amazon is burning. Indonesia is burning. Alaska is burning. Siberia is burning. These fires have been produced partly by the degree of climate warming that has already occurred, and partly by human greed for profits, for example from beef production or palm oil.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the UN climate conference COP24, the universally loved and respected naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, said:
“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world are on the horizon.”
Sir David’s two-part program, “Climate Change: The Facts” is currently being broadcast by BBC Earth. Hopefully, this important documentary film, like Leonardo DiCaprio’s excellent film “Before the Flood”, can do much to mobilize public opinion behind the immediate action that is needed to save the long-term future of human civilization and the biosphere.
Recently more than 7 million young people in 150 countries took part in strikes aimed at focusing public opinion on the need for rapid climate action. The Extinction Rebellion movement, which started in the UK, has now spread to many countries, and is also doing important work. In the United States, popular political figures such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are doing much to mobilize public opinion behind the Green New Deal and much to counteract Donald Trump’s climate change denial.
The Remarkable Properties of Exponential Growth
Positive feedback loops occur when the presence of something leads to the generation of more of the same thing. For example in the presence of an unlimited food supply, the growth of a population will lead to more individuals reaching reproductive age, and hence an accelerated growth of the population. This type of relationship leads to the mathematical relationship known as exponential growth.
Exponential growth of any quantity with time has some remarkable characteristics, which we ought to try to understand better, since this understanding will help us to predict the future. The knowledge will also show us the tasks which history has given to our generation. We must perform these tasks with urgency in order to create a future in which our descendants will be able to survive.
If any quantity, for example population, industrial production or indebtedness, is growing at the rate of 3% per year, it will double in 23.1 years; if it is growing at the rate of 4$\%$ per year, the doubling time is 17.3 years. For a 5% growth rate, the doubling time is 13.9 years, if the growth rate is 7% (the rate of economic growth that China’s leaders hope to maintain), the doubling time is only 9.9 years. If you want to find out the doubling time for any exponentially growing quantity, just divide 69.3 years by the growth rate in percent.
Looking at the long-term future, we can calculate that any quantity increasing at the modest rate of 3% per year will grow by a factor of 20.1 in a century. This implies that in four centuries, whatever is growing at 3% will have increased by a factor of 163,000. These facts make it completely clear that long-continued economic growth on a finite planet is a logical absurdity. Yet economists and governments have an almost religious belief in perpetual economic growth. They can only maintain this belief by refusing to look more than a short distance into the future.
Exponential decay of any quantity follows similar but inverse rules. For example, if the chance of a thermonuclear war will be initiated by accident or miscalculation or malice is 3% in any given year, the chance that the human race will survive for more than four centuries under these conditions is only1 in 163,000, i.e. 0.000625 percent. Clearly, in the long run, if we do not completely rid ourselves of nuclear weapons, our species will have no hope of survival.
Besides nuclear war, the other great threat to the survival of the human species and the biosphere is catastrophic climate change. The transition to 100% renewable energy must take place within about a century because fossil fuels will become too rare and expensive to burn. But scientists warn that if the transition does not happen much faster than that, there is a danger that we may reach a tipping point beyond which feedback loops, such as the albedo effect and the methane hydrate feedback loop, could take over and produce an out-of-control and fatal increase in global temperature.
In 2012, the World Bank issued a report warning that without quick action to curb CO2 emissions, global warming is likely to reach 4 degrees C during the 21st century. This is dangerously close to the temperature which initiated the Permian-Triassic extinction event: 6 degrees C above normal. During the Permian-Triassic extinction event, this occurred 252 million years ago. In this event, 96 percent of all marine species were wiped out, as well as 70 percent of all terrestrial vertebrates.
Is a quick transition to 100% renewable energy technically possible? The technology is available, remarkable characteristics of exponential growth can give us hope that it can indeed be done, provided that we make the necessary effort. Governments currently give enormous subsidies to fossil fuel industries. These must be stopped, or better yet, shifted to subsidize renewable energy. If this is done, economic forces alone will drive the shift to renewable energy. The remarkable properties of exponential growth can give us hope that the transition will take place rapidly enough to save the future of our planet from the worst effects of climate change.
Feedback Loops and Ethics
All of the major religions of the world contain some version of the Golden Rule,
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
In Christianity, there is a striking passage from the Sermon on the Mount:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
This seemingly impractical advice, that we should love our enemies and do good to them, is in fact extremely practical. It prevents the feedback loops of revenge and counter-revenge that we see so often in today’s conflicts. In fact, if nations that claim to be Christian really followed this commandment, their participation in war would be impossible. Conflicts can be prevented by unilateral acts of kindness.
Feedback Loops and the Information Explosion
In 1965, the computer scientist Gordon E. Moore predicted that the number of components per integrated circuit would increase exponentially for the next ten years. In 1975, he revised his growth rate to correspond to a doubling time of every two years. Astonishingly, Moore’s Law, as this relationship has come to be called, has proved to be valid for much longer than he or anyone else believed would be possible.
Moore’s Law is an example of the fact that the growth of knowledge feeds on itself. The number of scientific papers published each year is also increasing exponentially. This would be all to the good, if our social and political institutions matched our technology, but because of institutional and cultural inertia, the exponentially accelerating rate of technical innovation is threatening to shake human society to pieces. We need new global institutions of governance and new global ethics to match our new technology.
John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy andreceived his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf).
Stephen Peake, Senior Lecturer, The Open Universityin Climate crisis: six steps to making fossil fuels history, gives us a pretty realistic image of the prevailing situation of unsustainability throughout the world.
But the who, what, when, where and how of systems change can seem overwhelming. How do we transform a society whose fossil fuel habits have been entrenched for decades?
The next step is to get smarter in telling governments precisely what we want. System change doesn’t need to be daunting, or politically difficult. We just need to focus on the pinch points that will allow us to rapidly replace fossil fuel technologies. Here are six steps to decarbonising the system for good.
1. Stop wasting energy
We could power the planet two times over with the energy we waste burning fossil fuels each and every day. Even our most modern gas-fired power stations still waste around 40% of the gas they burn. The poor design of our transport systems, buildings, and appliances also waste vast amounts of energy.
Such taxes, combined with the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, could raise trillions of dollars for governments to put to great use. We could spend this money on accelerating climate action – improving energy efficiency, scaling renewable energy, and restoring natural habitats.
Much of the stuff we buy isn’t fit for purpose. Many clothes are made with fabric so thin that they only last a few months, while electronics are often designed to fail after a few years.
We also don’t need half the things we’re encouraged to buy in the first place. While its governments that are responsible for implementing system change, and corporations that pollute the most, people still have power – even beyond voting or marching. As well as governments strongly regulating advertising, we can choose to stop contributing to a consumer culture.
To redress this balance and cut emissions, we can shift to a diet rich in vegetables and grains, where sustainable meat is an occasional treat. Carbon taxes could also cover meat and dairy production, with funds used to help farmers transition as the global grazing stock falls.
We need to give our political leaders the courage to make bold decisions. Above all we must ask for specific things of our political leaders – and direct our energies towards those that will make the biggest difference. We must be clear in our demands for a new low-carbon political economy that makes fossil fuels history and renewable energy the future.
More than 40 years after the International Energy Agency (IEA) published the first edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO), the report’s overarching aim remains the same – to deepen our understanding of the future of energy. It does so by examining the opportunities and risks that lie ahead, and the consequences of different courses of action or inaction. The WEO analyses the choices that will shape our energy use, our environment and our wellbeing. It is not, and has never been, a forecast of where the energy world will end up.
This year brings many changes. I would like to highlight two in particular. First, we have renamed the ‘new policies scenario’ as the ‘stated policies scenario’, making more explicit our intention to hold up a mirror to the plans and ambitions announced by policy-makers without trying to anticipate how those plans might change in future.
Second, the sustainable development scenario – which provides a strategic pathway to meet global climate, air quality and energy access goals in full – has been extended to 2050 and set out in greater detail. This delivers sharper insights into what is required for the world to move in this direction.
What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s Outlook is that there are no simple solutions to transform the world of energy. Multiple technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy. For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policy-makers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future.
It is also clear to me that the world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change. The sustainable development scenario is tailor-made to help guide the members of such a coalition in their efforts to address the massive climate challenge that faces us all.
The IEA is already acting on the insights contained in the Outlook. For instance, our analysis shows that the pace of energy-efficiency improvements is slowing, but the potential for efficiency improvements to help the world meet its sustainable energy goals is massive. This has led us to set up a high-level Global Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency to recommend how progress can be rapidly accelerated through new and stronger policy action. (We are seeking your input on this subject in our online survey.)
We are also acutely aware that while the ongoing transformation of the electricity sector is full of promise, it also has implications for the stability and reliability of power grids around the world. In response, we have introduced new initiatives, including co-organising with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy the first Global Ministerial Conference on System Integration of Renewables in Berlin in October 2019 and undertaking a major new report on electricity security.
Another important issue is that global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, are rising alongside CO2. This is why we recently launched a new online methane tracker to monitor the problem and identify ways to tackle it.
These are just four examples of how the World Energy Outlook provides strategic guidance to the energy community and results in real-world initiatives and solutions. The goal of this year’s Outlook, once again, is to provide energy decision-makers with the data and objective analysis that they need to pursue a more secure and sustainable future.
While it has some infrastructure and regulatory obstacles to overcome, the automotive industry in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region is developing fast, driven by investment and innovation, as delegates heard at the ALMENA conference in Dubai last week.
Despite a sustained period of decline over the last few years affected by a fall in oil prices and geopolitical strife, the Middle East and Africa is fast becoming a region of automotive and supply chain opportunity. Carmakers such as VW, Toyota, GM, Groupe PSA and Mercedes-Benz are investing in local assembly, ranging from North African countries including Morocco, Algeria and Egypt, to sub-Saharan markets such as Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana. There are also some notable logistics developments there and in the Middle East.
According to figures from IHS Markit, light vehicle sales in the Middle East and Africa are to increase by 6% in 2020 to around 3.5m, supported by ongoing recovery in Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries. That is still below 4.65m units sold in 2015 but at that point Middle East sales were helped by increases in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latter of which was seeing an (albeit brief) resurgence after sanctions were temporarily lifted. That said, by 2025 annual new light vehicle sales across the region are set to hit more than 5.3m, according to IHS projections.
Saudi Arabia already accounts for about 40% of total vehicles sold in the Middle East and IHS Markit forecasts annual sales could reach over 800,000 beyond units by 2030. Contributing factors including the recovery in price per barrel of oil and to a lesser extent the lifting of the ban on female drivers suggest sustained growth is expected to start in the next two years.
Countries within the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) have established a national employment challenge to employ more local workers, the so-called ‘Gulfization’ policy, which is increasing labour opportunities in the area, something also fuelled by the exodus of foreign workers and the need for investment in local skills and talent.
Greater Cairo (GC) is the largest urban area in the Middle East and one of the most populated cities in the world. The urban growth patterns of the metropolitan area reveal a fragmented city of heterogeneous parts that developed unplanned over the years. GC public transport network offers a large variety of means of transportation throughout three governorates but its lack of efficiency is forcing more and more people to use private cars. The extreme density of the urban fabric and the widespread congestion on the road network end up making the city’s livability very difficult.
Pamella de Leon, Startup Section Editor, on October 29, 2019, wrote in Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media the following.
Aside from private cars, taxis, and other four-wheeled vehicles, a ubiquitous sight on the streets of Cairo (and in other parts of the MENA, as well as the world at large) are the three-wheeled tuktuks and two-wheeled motorcycles to navigate daily traffic- and taking a bite out of the opportunity in the alternative transport market is Egypt-born startup Halan. The ride-sharing app for tuktuks, motorcycles, and tricycles -a first in the region- was launched in November 2017 in underserved communities in Cairo where roads tend to be too narrow for cars, and provided a cheaper alternative to cars and buses.
It grew across Giza, Alexandria, Minya, Luxor and Qalyubia governorates, and expanded to Sudan in 2018. It also offers on-demand logistics solutions to support large organizations and small businesses alike in their distribution and supply chain. Founded by Mounir Nakhla and Ahmed Mohsen, the former had the lightbulb moment when the idea was proposed to him by one of Gojek’s seed investors.
After meeting Nadiem Makarim, the CEO of Gojek, a startup that has been dubbed Indonesia’s first unicorn venture and has grown as an on-demand tech company for the transport, payment, and food sector, Nakhla was inspired from its success, and saw potential for a similar impact in Egypt. With Egypt’s population of more than 100 million, internet penetration, fast-growing sales of smartphone devices and a growing use of mobile apps, all the elements were positive, he notes.
“Transportation is one of the fastest ways of acquiring customers by solving a real need, and we wanted to be the app of choice for the underserved,” he says. “Egypt has north of 700,000 tuktuks already operating as taxis, and just over 1.5 million two-wheeler vehicles, used for both personal transportation and for delivery services, and this is where Halan comes in.”
As part of the startup’s efforts to organize the market and ensure safety, Nakhla says they also have a meticulous screening process when recruiting drivers. Besides offering convenience to customers, Nakhla says they also provide incremental business for their drivers, and thus increase their incomes.
The founder and CEO is no stranger to working with Egypt’s mobility scene and underserved communities- he co-founded Mashroey, an Egypt-based light transport financing business, and Tasaheel, an Egypt-based micro-financing venture, which Nakhla says, has served more than 1 million customers combined. And the rest of the founding team are veterans in the transport field too: co-founder and CTO Ahmed Mohsen has published several papers in IEEE on AI, was part of the founding team and a shareholder in SecureMisr, a security consultancy company in Egypt, and founded MusicQ and CircleTie.
Plus Mohamed Aboulnaga, Careem’s former Regional Director and Fawry’s Business Development Manager, joined as co-founder and COO. They also have key members who have worked previously with Uber and Ghabbour Auto, which has resulted in a team that is comprised of “technically very competent, passionate, creative, results-driven individuals with a high work ethic. Each one with a unique strength, that when brought together make for an unrivalled team.”
After launching in 2017, Nakhla says that the company was doing around 50,000 rides by March 2018, and they closed their Series A round in the same year in a round co-led by Battery Road Ventures Holdings (BRVH) and Algebra Ventures. As for their funding, Nakhla put in 20% of the seed capital and raised the rest from Raouf Ghabbour, founder of GB Auto, as well as BRVH.
According to Nakhla, Halan has so far raised single-digit millions in total, and are currently in the process of their Series B funding round. The company’s business model involves taking a percentage of the ride fare as commission. Currently serving more than 100,000 customers, Halan has exceeded 10 million rides and operates in around 20-25 cities in Egypt and Sudan. As for its on-demand logistics offering, Halan is currently partnering with prominent names in the fast-food industry, including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Hardees, and many more. The startup has also been recently awarded Fastest-Growing Mobility Solution in the Market during the second edition of the E-Commerce Summit in September this year.
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