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Oil drilling ship Tungsten Explorer off the coast of Lebanon on Feb. 25, 2020. Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images

Global oil consumption is slated to plateau early this decade even without vastly stronger measures to combat climate change, BP said in a new analysis.

Why it matters: BP now sees this moment arriving a decade sooner than last year's version of their long-term outlook for oil-and-gas, coal, renewables, cars and more.

  • The new projection signals how the COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping analysts' views of the energy future.
  • The timing of peak oil demand, and the slope of its decline, will affect carbon emissions, corporate strategies and the finances of oil-producing nations.

Driving the news: BP projects demand for liquid fuels (a rough oil proxy) entering a long plateau in the early 2020s in their "business as usual" (BAU) scenario.

  • It assumes "government policies, technologies and social preferences continue to evolve in a manner and speed seen over the recent past."
  • Oil demand plateaus at roughly 100 million barrels per day — where it was before the pandemic drove it downward — for almost 20 years, and then declines slightly through 2050.

The intrigue: In other BP scenarios, oil demand never reaches pre-pandemic levels again and declines steeply by 2050, the end of its outlook period.

  • BP's "rapid transition" case assumes policies strong enough to slash energy-related CO2 emissions by 70% by 2050. It shows oil demand falling to roughly half of pre-COVID levels by 2050.
  • Under its "net zero" scenario — which explores policies and behaviors aligned with holding temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — demand falls to about one-third of pre-pandemic levels.
  • When it comes to transportation, the largest source of oil demand, all three scenarios see increasing efficiency, while the "rapid transition" and "net zero" cases both see much greater increases in electric cars and hydrogen fuels than BAU.

Where it stands: The report comes as BP is planning to diversify away from its dominant fossil fuel business in coming decades, including plans to cut aggregate oil-and-gas production by 40% by 2030.

The big picture: Oil demand across the models is "significantly affected" by the pandemic, due in part to its economic effect in emerging economies that are centers of demand growth.

  • "The experience of coronavirus also triggers some lasting changes in behavior, especially increased working from home," the report finds.

Yes, but: "We can’t predict the future; all the scenarios discussed in this year’s Outlook will be wrong," said BP chief economist Spencer Dale. Instead, BP uses these scenarios to "better understand the range of uncertainty we face as the energy system transitions to a lower-carbon world."

Go deeper

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Nov 23, 2020 - Energy & Environment
Column / Harder Line

Subsidizing and innovating away climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Washington lawmakers may throw billions of taxpayer dollars at clean energy next year, prompting a rush of ideas about how to do it and how effective it can be at tackling climate change.

Driving the news: With the federal government’s political power likely divided, the biggest policies are likely to come through an economic recovery package in the form of subsidies and other spending.

WMO: Carbon dioxide levels continue to rise despite coronavirus lockdowns

A protestor wearing a face mask displays a placard reading 'Save The Earth' during the climate crisis protest in Seoul. Photo: Simon Shin/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Although a slowdown in industrial activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic has helped cut emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases, it has not reduced record levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday.

Why it matters: Record levels of greenhouse gases are trapping heat in the atmosphere, increasing temperatures and driving more extreme weather, ice melt, sea-level rise and ocean acidification, the WMO said, noting that "carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the ocean for even longer."

America's Chinese communities struggle with online disinformation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Disinformation has proliferated on Chinese-language websites and platforms like WeChat that are popular with Chinese speakers in the U.S., just as it has on English-language websites.

Why it matters: There are fewer fact-checking sites and other sources of reliable information in Chinese, making it even harder to push back against disinformation.

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