Bob Dudley of BP and Denial

Last week saw the publication of BP’s Energy Outlook 2030. This is one of the troika of reports that peer into the future world of energy (and, therefore, carbon emission and concentration trajectories). The other two major forecasts are the Annual Energy Outlook issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the World Energy Outlook put out by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Through reading these reports, you can benchmark your thoughts as to how the world’s climate will evolve in the decades to come. All three report make depressing reading for anyone vaguely acquainted with the potential impacts from high rates of global warming. BP’s Energy Outlook provides a handy reference chart putting the central energy consumption forecast of all three organisations side by side (click for larger image):

BP Growth in Energy Consumption copy

The IEA provides two forecasts: a New Policies Scenario (NPS) that assumes governments will translate vague fossil fuel emission mitigation commitments to actual concrete policies, and a Current Policies Scenario (CPS) that is basically business as usual. The abbreviation ‘toe’ refers to tonnes of oil equivalent.

For BP, the roughly 4.5 billion toe rise in energy consumption from 2011 to 2030 is about 36% in percentage terms. Further, the increase is dominated by fossil fuels as can be seen the chart below (click for larger image):

BP Energy Consumption Outlook jpg

What key message does BP’s CEO Bob Dudley want to communicate within his introduction to the report:

It (the report) underlines the power of competition and market forces in driving efficiency and innovation – importantly not only in unlocking new supplies such as unconventional oil and gas but also in improving energy efficiency and consequently limiting the growth of carbon emissions.

Limiting the growth of carbon emissions? Which universe is Bob Dudley occupying? According to the Energy Outlook Summary Tables (you can find them on the sidebar in an Excel spreadsheet here), coal consumption will rise by 26% from 3.7 billion to 4.7 billion toe, total liquids (including crude oil) by 17% from 4.1 billion to 4.8 billion toe and gas by 46% from 2.9 billion to 4.3 billion toe.

BP’s Energy Outlook does accept that we will overshoot the scientific community’s recommended target:

Carbon emissions from energy use continue to grow, increasing by 26% between 2011 and 2030 (1.2% p.a.). We assume continued tightening in policies to address climate change, yet emissions remain well above the required path to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases at the level recommended by scientists (450 ppm).

But there is no mention of by how much the 450 ppm target will be missed! The report tells us we will reach around 45 billion tonnes of annual CO2 emissions by 2030, with no sign of a peak:

BP CO2 Emissions jpg

The emissions from energy use in the chart above of over 40 billion tonnes of CO2 is quite similar to the Current Policies Scenario of the IEA. And what is the implication of such a level of CO2 emission according to the IEA (see here):

The 6°C Scenario (6DS) is largely an extension of current trends. By 2050, energy use almost doubles (compared with 2009) and total GHG emissions rise even more. In the absence of efforts to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of GHGs, average global temperature rise is projected to be at least 6°C in the long term. The 6DS is broadly consistent with the World Energy Outlook Current Policy Scenario through 2035.

The IEA’s New Policies Scenario has CO2 emissions levelling off above 35 billion tonnes of CO2, far below the BP prediction. And what level of warming would we expect under this scenario:

The 4°C Scenario (4DS) takes into account recent pledges made by countries to limit emissions and step up efforts to improve energy efficiency. It serves as the primary benchmark in ETP 2012 when comparisons are made between scenarios. Projecting a long-term temperature rise of 4°C, the 4DS is broadly consistent with the World Energy Outlook New Policies Scenario through 2035 (IEA, 2011). In many respects, this is already an ambitious scenario that requires significant changes in policy and technologies. Moreover, capping the temperature increase at 4°C requires significant additional cuts in emissions in the period after 2050.

So the BP projection puts us on course for somewhere between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius of warming. The World Bank recently published a report explaining why a warming of 4 degrees must be avoided. Within the Foreword written by the World Bank’s  president Jim Yong Kim we see these words:

The 4°C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.

Does Bob Dudley understand the implications of the BP Energy Outlook 2030? His scenario sees us on track for 4 to 6 degrees. Do we feel he understands that this will have a “devastating” impact on the global economy? This is how he ends his introduction to the report:

The overall conclusion is that increased demand can be met as long as competition is present to drive innovation, unlock resources and encourage efficiency. This is why we remain optimistic the world will produce the energy it needs to fuel continued economic growth.

In other words, success is purely defined as sufficient energy production to support economic growth. What this ignores is that 4 to 6 degrees of warming will be a disaster for growth, let alone for the general environment. Dudley appears to deny this obvious reality.

The sociologist Stanley Cohen divided denial into three forms in his influential book “States of Denial“: literal, interpretative and implicatory. While I find it hard to believe that Dudley denies the global warming science, I am unsure as to whether he denies the extent to which 4 degrees plus of warming will change the world or, perhaps more likely, he denies that a high degree of warming has anything to do with him.

But as the head of one of the largest oil companies in the world: it does. I see from Wikipedia that he has two children. So they stand to inherit a 4 degree plus warmer world. As a metaphorical concentration camp commandant, Dudley can look away—but ultimately it is his kids who are moved toward the gas chamber.

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