Is There A Future For Fossil Fuel Companies?

Shell is one of the world's most major producers of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change. (Credit-Unsplash)

There is a perpetual tug of war being played in the renewable energy industry over whether the climate crisis can be solved without the inclusion of the fossil fuels companies that have overwhelmingly created it.

Since 1988, 100 companies have been responsible for over 70% of the world’s carbon emissions, with 20 of those contributing to a third of global emissions.

The role that fossil fuel companies have to play in transitioning to a carbon neutral world is no secret, the challenge, however, is figuring out whether these companies should be included in our new renewable and carbon free world or consigned to the dustbin of history.

COP26, the UN Climate Conference, is currently taking place in Glasgow. It kicked off with damning speeches from David Attenborough and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the fate the planet is in if we do not act. Thursday the 4th is ‘energy day’ at COP and the focus must be on the responsibility of states to properly regulate the fossil fuel industry and support renewable projects being developed by those already in the industry, not those who are transitioning.

The reality, obviously, isn’t black and white. The industrial revolution has played its part in one of the biggest periods of growth in human history and has led to an increase in wealth and living standards across the world. It has also, however, destroyed the planet and forged an economic system based on greed, profit and growth at all costs. This has led to the infringement of human rights across the globe and accelerated the destruction of our planet's ecosystem at a rate that is previously unimaginable.

So, what is the future of the fossil fuel industry? Many in the energy sector will have you believe that fossil fuels and fossil fuels companies are such an ingrained part of our world that we have no choice but to bring them along for the ride and ensure they are supported in the transition to carbon neutrality.

Companies such as BP, Exxon, Shell and Chevron are continually funding new renewable projects and exploring ways in which to either move into the renewable industry or reduce their carbon output. This money is, somewhat understandably, welcomed warmly in the renewable industry

Any suggestion to the contrary would be deeply irresponsible and essentially an argument for the total reconstruction of society.

Well, isn’t that just what we need?

On our current trajectory, at best, we are looking at ecosystem collapse, the largest displacement of people in modern history and extreme weather events becoming the norm. At worst we are experiencing the destruction of our planet and the end of the human race as we know it.

The urgency of approaching climate collapse cannot be underestimated and warrants a complete systemic restructuring of society. The fossil fuels industry will not change at the rate we need willingly so they must be either forced to change or shown the door.

Fossil fuel consumption globally fell for the first time in 2019, however, global fossil fuels subsidies in 2020 were over $5.5 trillion and BP are planning on investing more than £50 billion on non-renewable energy operations.

The “greenwashing” of the fossil fuel industry has led to many believing that there is a place for so-called ‘sustainable fossil fuel use’, this viewpoint is unfortunately held in the renewable industry too.

It should be apparent however, to world and environmental leaders, that there is no future for fossil fuel companies in the transition to Net Zero. We must end all subsidies to fossil fuel companies immediately (they don’t need the help), phase out the use of fossil fuels and ban the investment into fossil fuel research and procurement by 2035.

This money can, and should, instead be used to ensure that the UK renewable energy sector is the most thriving and prosperous in the world and that the UK is the flagship nation in the fight against the climate crisis.

The current government under Boris Johnson is ostensibly willing to further prioritise the climate crisis, committing to meet international targets. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has boasted that the UK will become the world’s first net-zero financial centre. However, these promises are unfortunately often made without a concrete plan as to how to act on them. The Committee for Climate Change have reiterated that to meet the UK's net zero 2050 target, more work needs to be done and it needs to be done quickly.

Instead of taking accountability, this Government are consistently shifting responsibility onto the private and public sector. Yet it is their job to ensure that the incentives and infrastructure exist to create a carbon neutral society. Net zero 2050 is not just a goal but a necessity if we are serious about saving the planet.

We have the opportunity to do so. Let’s not let the companies that have created the issue stand in our way.

Jack is the Founder and Managing Director of The Demographica Network.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.

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