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AB 2000 studies

Alain Boublil Blog


The barrel of oil price and the climate

On the European market, the barrel of oil price is nearing 80$, at its highest for three years. This trend is all the more spectacular since it comes at a time when the OPEC members are not achieving an agreement about the evolution of their production. Traditionally, in this case, prices were falling because the lack of an agreement allowed each member to increase its production and the total supply quickly became superior to the demand. The United Arab Emirates have blocked the negotiation because they ask a reevaluation of their quota of 600 000 barrels per day. But they are not opposed to the project consisting in an increase by 400 000 b/d every month until the end of the year of the global level of the production of the members-States to which Russia decided to join. The market reaction is significant at a double point. In the case of an agreement, the forecasted increase of the production is not considered as enough regarding markets needs. And the prospect of a failure and of the ability for each country to recover its freedom to produce doesn’t constitute anymore a threat able to make the markets falling as it happened in the past. 

The explanation is simple: we see a significant rebound of the oil demand which has recovered the 100 million b/j level observed as an average during the six quarters which have preceded the start of the corona virus pandemic. But the world economy itself has not recovered the pre-crisis level. If China is an exception, the United States and especially the European Union will still have, in 2021 a GDP inferior to 2019 one. That means that, despite public commitments and the aggressive speeches of the political leaders, the world economy doesn’t deprive itself from the first fossil energy, quite an opposite. The States, globally, have even rather a tendency to consume more petrol, despite the objectives included in the international agreements about the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Oil is not an isolated case. The trend is even stronger with natural gas. That can be partly explained by the substitution process to the detriment of coal and brown coal in the power production which is doubly in favor of environment. At the local level, particles emissions are reduced and globally the natural gas combustion emits much less CO2 than coal. But that comes also from a point which is rarely mentioned, the absence of the reduction of the energy consumption. So, in France, between 2012 and 2019, the natural gas consumption has not diminished. At the world level, primary energy consumption, during that period has increased by 11%. The rise in OECD countries has been 3.6% and in emerging ones 17% as a full contradiction with the exposed objectives and the States undertakings.

Everything is as if the political voluntarism has harmed the technical efficiency. The research of announcements effects has surpassed the putting into place of measures having immediate impact. To think in terms of horizons with very long maturities allows these who talk to impress media and make their people believe that a road has been defined. But this forgets two undisputable obvious facts. The principle of a “horizon” is that we never reach it because it recedes when we approach it. Then a political leader can only take commitments inside his mandate duration. Once he has been replaced, who can say what his successor will do, especially if we reason on a twenty or a thirty years period?

The other weakness, it is to use vague concepts a huge majority of the concerned persons ignores the signification and especially when it doesn’t exist a precise definition of them and even less the undisputable measurement tools. It is the case about the “net-zero” concept which is at the center of the discussions and of the objectives adopted by the States, notably in Europe. Human activity generates carbon emissions which contribute to climate warming. But the planet has at its disposal, to absorb a share of these emissions, natural means, mainly oceans, grounds and forests. So through protecting grounds against their transformation and the planting of trees, we contribute to neutralize a part of these emissions. But we are not able to precisely measure these phenomena. It has also been tried, through new technologies, to capture the carbon coming from coal-fired power plants but the results have not been convincing.

So, to produce “net-zero” objectives at the 2040 or 2050 objectives make people to believe that we have found the solution of the planet problems and allows these who are the instigators to take advantage themselves of a tangible and rigorous commitment which is not the case. So it is not through the planting of trees in cities and the reduction of the spaces dedicated to circulation that we will fight against the climate warming. That generates traffic jams and increases fuels consumption. In France fuel consumption has only declined by 5% between 2012 and 2019 and it had remained stable during the three years before the adoption of confinement measures which has restrained travels.

The CO2 storage in the forests can also be only a provisional one because when they fire, it is rejected in the atmosphere. The recurrent catastrophes observed in California, the fires in Australia and now in Cyprus show that this phenomenon is far from being marginal. France has one of the largest forests in Europe with les Landes. For years, at the start of the summer, was beginning the “fires season”. Thanks to a responsible exploitation of the plantations, it has been possible to obtain a significant reduction of these disasters. So the priority must be less to vaunt oneself to plant trees than to make progress in the protection of the planted spaces.

The excessive promotion in favor of the electric vehicles comes from the same logic. We prefer the spectacular to the efficient and we are lavish with the subventions to show flattering registrations numbers. But if their progression is significant, it is because the starting point is very low and their share of the whole market is much too small to have real consequences on fuel consumption. Atop of that, evaluations show that we have just move the time and the kind of the energy consumption. If the electricity produced to recharge the batteries emits CO2, it is an illusory advantage. And if the energy and the commodities consumption to produce these cars and to recycle them at the end of their life are much higher than with a traditional car, the advantage is even more illusory.

The recourse to a vague concept, the net-zero, masks in reality the States incapacity to find solutions allowing to reach the only thing which matters, the reduction of the real energy consumption. That one can only results from the choice of appropriate policies leading to innovations and to an evolution of the behavior of the economic agents. The current trends show that we are far from that and that this is this incapacity which is showed by financial markets  through the increase of the barrel of oil price.



  1. Frederic Guarino 08/21/2021 8:12 p.m. #

    100% en accord avec vous sur le flou de la neutralité carbone. Je lis en ce moment 1 de vos ouvrages - Une Vie avec la Gauche - et je suis très intéressé par vos conclusions sur les bénéfices économiques et stratégiques des nationalisations de 81.

    Je souhaite vous interviewer sur l’opportunité de nationalisations stratégiques dans le domaine pétrole-gaz afin de mettre en oeuvre de réelles avancées dans la dé-carbonisation. Je publie une série d’entretiens dont voici 2 exemples récents:

    Sur le renouveau de l’industrie spatiale, Noah Rothman: https://perspectiveandcontext.substack.com/p/billionaires-kamikaze-space-vehicles

    Sur les grands enjeux technologiques, Jason Pontin:

    Mon adresse email: frederic@fredericguarino.com

    Bien cordialement,

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