International Energy Agency says nations should save fuel as global energy crisis looms

The war in Ukraine is triggering the world’s first such energy crisis, and nations around the world should respond by reducing their consumption of oil and gas, the head of a key international organization warned on Friday.

The International Energy Agency, which was set up in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis to ensure stability in the global energy market, said the repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were likely to intensify over the next few months as the summer driving season kicked off with inventories. at historic lows.

“Reducing demand is a way to remedy the situation without simply pumping more oil,” said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director.

It’s a message that has been largely absent from the conversation in the United States, the world’s largest oil producer, where fossil fuel companies make big profits and where the response to high gasoline prices has been calls for increased production.

Dr Birol said the energy shortage was likely to intensify and that it differed from the oil shortage of 1973 because it affected not only oil but also natural gas — which affects transportation and the economy. electricity — and because countries are now more interconnected, with the result that a disruption in supply can have a greater impact on global markets.

On Friday, the agency recommended 10 immediate steps nations could take to save oil, such as lowering speed limits, having people work from home up to three days a week and urging travelers to take the train instead of the plane when possible. Recommended measures also include car-free Sundays in cities, carpooling and reducing fares on public transport.

If advanced economies implemented the 10 recommendations, they could reduce oil demand by 2.7 million barrels per day, the agency found. That’s on par with an estimated 2.5 million barrels of Russian oil a day that is expected to be lost in world markets over the next few months as buyers shy away from it. The agency also called for a series of longer-term structural changes, including electric heat pumps and the prioritization of electric vehicles.

In the European Union, which in recent years has gotten about 40% of its natural gas and more than a quarter of its crude oil from Russia, leaders have encouraged citizens to conserve energy. “Everyone can do something,” Ursula von der Leyen, chairwoman of the European Union executive, told a news conference last week. “The reduction in energy consumption that we have overall, the individual contribution of 450 million Europeans, is a big chunk.”

In the United States, one of the few calls for conservation came from Mitch Roth, the mayor of Hawaii County, which is particularly vulnerable to soaring energy prices following the ban by the President Biden of Russian oil, gas and coal. The state of Hawaii has relied heavily on Russian fuel, and its high cost of living means many families are already struggling to pay their bills. So Mr. Roth turned to what he saw as a common-sense solution: asking his community to use less oil and gas.

“We don’t tax anything,” said Roth, who has jurisdiction over the island of Hawaii, known as the Big Island. “But for the betterment of your checkbook, for the betterment of our community, for the betterment of our country and for the betterment of our world, it makes a lot of sense.”

Mr Biden has urged oil companies to increase production to meet demand, and his energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, personally delivered the message to fossil fuel leaders gathered in Houston last week.

In the long term, administration officials say, the United States needs to move away from fossil fuels and develop more solar, wind and other clean energy sources.

“We know we can’t break our dependence on a global commodity controlled in part by foreign nations and their leaders, which is why the administration is committed to accelerating – not slowing – our transition to an energy future. clean,” said Charisma Troiano, spokeswoman for Ms. Granholm.

According to many experts, clean energy is the ultimate solution to fight global warming and reduce energy dependence on other countries. But it can’t go live fast enough to meet immediate demand. To make matters worse, countries were already way behind on the emissions cuts needed to meet the Paris Agreement, a global commitment to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

As Western nations try to deal with the humanitarian crisis and energy problems resulting from the war in Ukraine, “we must not forget a third crisis, which is the climate crisis”, said the Agency’s Dr Birol. energy international. “And therefore, the 10 measures we have put on the table not only address the tightness of the crude oil market, but also help pave the way to achieving our climate goals.”

A White House spokesman declined to say whether Mr Biden plans to call on Americans to save energy, which is seen as carrying political risks.

A handful of Democrats in Congress have mentioned conservation. “We need to talk about the decline in demand,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, Democrat of Florida. “If we reduce demand, it really undermines the power of these oil despots to control our lives.”

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas companies, linked energy conservation with deprivation.

“I mean, we never want people to waste energy,” she said in an interview. “But do you want to tell Americans that they can’t drive to school and work and not heat their homes? I mean, everything on your table is the result of oil and natural gas.

Mr. Biden would face some backlash if he called on Americans to save energy — especially as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.

“People are increasingly turned off by the whole notion of masks, so the message of personal sacrifice – having to change their behavior in some way – comes into a discussion about the freedom the White House doesn’t want. not address at this time,” said Dr. Miringoff.

With the midterm elections looming and Republicans already using high gas prices to attack Mr. Biden’s policies, Dr. Miringoff said asking Americans to conserve energy was not not a winning strategy.

The November election holds high stakes for Mr. Biden’s climate agenda. Republicans have shown little appetite for fighting global warming. If they got control of one or both houses of Congress, the odds would drastically diminish of enacting policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases that are dangerously warming the planet.

For many Democrats, the 1980 presidential election is seen as a cautionary tale. President Jimmy Carter, who wore a famous sweater and called on Americans to follow his lead and turn down their thermostats in response to energy shortages in the 1970s, was beaten in his race for a second term. The Senate also moved to Republican control.

“It sent a jolt through the political system that we haven’t fully recovered from,” said Jay Hakes, who headed the US Energy Information Administration under President Bill Clinton and ran the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. “Of course Biden was there at the time.”

But such fears take away the important energy-saving tool, Dr Hakes added, recalling 1970s utility advertisements that encouraged Americans to drive 50 or 55 miles per hour and keep their thermostats at 68 degrees. The slogan was “Don’t be energy hungry”.

Half a century later, the world has a “brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all,” scientists wrote in the Intergovernmental Panel’s latest major report. on climate change from the United Nations. The report, by 270 researchers from 67 countries, warned that climate change is harming the planet faster than humans can adapt to it.

“Everyone talks about reducing emissions, but if the production of fossil fuels is constant, then one wonders where these emission reductions come from,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a physiologist and one of the co-chairs of the report.

Dr Pörtner spoke from his home in northern Germany, wearing a sweater and jacket because his wife had lowered the temperature to save energy. Such measures are “low-hanging fruits”, said Dr Pörtner.

He said he hoped policymakers would use the Russian invasion as an impetus to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

“If we forget about the existential threats from climate change, then we’re really in trouble,” Dr Pörtner said.

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