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DNV GL: COVID-19 and the climate emergency

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

According to new research by the authors of DNV GL’s Energy Transition Outlook, the economic and behavioural ramifications of COVID-19 will significantly reduce global long-term energy demand. COVID-19 has also hastened the decline in CO2 emissions – with 2019 set to be the year of peak CO2 emissions - yet the overall impact on the carbon budget is minimal.

Compared to DNV GL’s pre-pandemic forecast, the amount of energy required in 2050 will be 8% lower. Energy efficiency remains the key driver in reducing the world’s energy needs, although lower economic output following the COVID-19 pandemic is putting a further brake on demand. Lasting behavioural changes to travel, commuting and working habits will also decrease energy usage and lessen demand for fossil fuels from the transport sector as well as from iron and steel production, DNV GL states.

”We are still at a critical junction. We basically have the technologies to deliver on the Paris ambition, but we need smarter policies to scale these technologies much faster. COVID-19 has caused enormous human suffering, but has at the same time shown us that measures can be implemented fast at scale,” said Remi Eriksen, Group President and Chief Executive Officer of DNV GL. “This is an opportunity that cannot go to waste. Governments and international regulatory institutions must take this opportunity to make a lasting impact on decarbonisation.”

The DNV GL states that energy demand from the transport sector will never reach pre-pandemic levels due to the downturn in the aviation sector and because of altered commuting habits as people work from home more regularly. In turn, the energy intensive process of iron and steel production will be hit by a reduced demand for office space.

With the earlier than anticipated plateauing of oil and the continued rapid decline of coal use, DNV GL’s forecast shows that CO2 emissions have most likely peaked in 2019. However, even with peak emissions behind us, and flat energy demand through to 2050, the energy transition is still nowhere near fast enough to deliver on the Paris ambition of keeping global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the DNV GL states. To reach the 1.5° target would require the repetition of the decline in emissions experienced in 2020 every year from now on.

To put this into perspective, the COVID-19 impact on energy demand only buys another year of ‘allowable’ emissions before the 1.5°C target is exhausted in 2029 and a couple of years before the 2°C warming carbon budget is exhausted in the year 2050.

"The depth of the climate crisis is immense, but we have all the tools to prevent unsustainable global warming. Companies and governments must act now. Now more than ever we need technology and the scaling of technology to accelerate the uptake of renewables, energy efficiency measures, as well as the deployment of industrial scale carbon capture and storage and the use of alternative fuels,” said Eriksen.

The full Energy Transition Outlook will be published on 9 September 2020.

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