Be prepared to ‘strand some assets’

Jeremy Cresswell
Jeremy Cresswell
Jeremy Cresswell
Opinion by Jeremy Cresswell

The world’s advanced economies have hit the buffers with efforts to slash carbon dioxide emissions.

They are once again on the rise following five years of reduction with an increase of 0.5% expected for 2018 as a whole.

The International Energy Agency has figured that, based on the latest available data, energy-related CO2 emissions in North America, the EU (including the UK) and other advanced economies in Asia-Pacific grew, as growing oil and gas consumption more than offset falling coal consumption.

But this increase has to be seen against the 2.4% rise in economic growth across these regions.

A net increase in emissions from emerging economies is also anticipated, driven by rising energy use and a global economy expanding by around 3.7% this year.

However, what the IEA did not reveal is what its revised expectations for 2019 and beyond are. Base on simple pendulum physics, it seems to me that giving the staggering size of the human population, emissions growth will accelerate until enough pressure is applied to brake, halt and reverse the negative swing that has started.

The news could hardly come at a worse time, given the latest warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding now serious global warming and the COP 24 assembly in Poland which got off to a dangerous start.

I’ll concentrate on COP 24 where the world’s most respected environmentalist, Sir David Attenborough, and a catalogue of political leaders from around the globe received a shock at the conference venue in the coal mining town Katowice.

Not only had the Polish government selected coal companies to sponsor the talks, it decided to deck the halls of the exhibition centre with piles of coal in a move that has been described as “beyond parody”.

It is understood that various delegates protested about the coal sponsorship and display. One went so far as to say: “It is like an arms dealer sponsoring peace talks. This is irresponsible (COP) presidency from Poland.”

However, such stupidity did nothing to blunt the brutal message from Sir David that must have been the lead story for the global news machine on Monday this week.

He warned: “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change.

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.

“The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now.”

Not that Polish miners gave a stuff, judging from what I saw on the box after Sir David spoke.

It is with Sir David’s words and the miners’ retorts ringing in my ears that I attended Oil & Gas UK’s energy transition breakfast yesterday to discover how it intended to justify the continuing existence of the North Sea oil and gas industry.

And to its credit, OGUK actually argues its case quite well.

It would indeed appear to have a valid role to play in Britain’s battle to reduce its carbon footprint further, having made substantial progress in the right direction over the past decade or so and the setting of a vision out to 2035.

Chris Stark, CEO of the UK Committee on Climate Change, probably correctly claimed the UK to be a leader in economic decarbonisation. But he perhaps deliberately overlooked the fact that the technological innovation to enable this has simply been bought in.

Stark warned breakfast delegates not to underestimate the pace of change and that, in the North Sea context, it many become necessary to “strand some assets” … in other words leave oil and gas reserves in the ground should the environmental crisis deepen, which I personally believe it will.

Going forward, the messages need to be tougher, actions too, or very quickly the oil and gas industry could find itself out in the cold, or at least those who don’t take strong systematic and even drastic action.

Witness Statoil’s metamorphosis into Equinor, perhaps the closest thing to a model transition energy major currently active in the North Sea.

And witness the drastic action being taken by Shell. The energy giant aims to set three-to-five-year carbon footprint targets every year and has signed a joint statement with a group of 310 investors with more than $32trillion (£25tn) of assets under management, dubbed Climate Change Action 100+.

This is a superb example of the growing power of ESG – environmental, social and governance – investing. Their message is simple. If you, Mr Oil & Gas Corporation, don’t change, then you’re out!

But then tell that to US producers where emissions from the Permian shale oil and gas industry have just hit an all-time high. Doubtless US President Donald Trump will be delighted.