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Future Energy

12 August 2009
by inadim -- last modified 12 August 2009

"The EU and the world are at a cross-roads concerning the future of energy. Climate change, increasing dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, growing imports, and rising energy costs are making our societies and economies vulnerable. These challenges call for a comprehensive and ambitious response." European Commission Renewable Energy Road Map


Climate change is arguably the world's most pressing issue, and is thus central to the EU's agenda, encompassing environmental, energy, transport and external relations policies. These policies, which have always had a degree of interconnectedness, are by necessity becoming increasingly integrated. In the future, shortages of fossil fuels and regional conflicts over them have the potential to seriously disrupt security and the European economy, and the potential effects of climate change will only exacerbate these problems.

October 2007 saw former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, along with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to raise awareness for climate change. Gore was one of "three climate-change evangelists" up for the prestigious award. He was also among two of the last three Nobel winners who were environmental advocates. The Nobel committee, which rewards advocates of peace, is sending a clear signal. One of the greatest threats to peace in our age is the advent of both climate change and the rapid decline of those energy resources that cause it.

Some 80 percent of the energy the EU consumes is from fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal. A significant and increasing proportion of this comes from outside the EU, which makes the EU vulnerable to reductions in supply or higher prices. This fuel mix is also unsustainable with regard to climate change.

Within the European Union, the largest oil and gas reserves are in the North Sea, with production undertaken by Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, the U.K. and Norway. Within Europe, Norway is the largest producer of oil and natural gas, and its StatoilHydro is the largest offshore natural gas and oil producer in the world. Both are estimated to be past peak production, oil in 1999 and natural gas, perhaps, in 2000-01. This means that supplies within Europe are dwindling, even as demand everywhere is rising. The EU will thus have to import an increasingly larger share of its oil and natural gas from abroad.

The EU's energy problems are not isolated. In July 2007, the International Energy Agency predicted a global oil "supply crunch" within five years, due to demand outpacing supply from non-OPEC countries by about 1 percent, meaning that OPEC will have to increase production to meet worldwide demand, which is only expected to go up. But the IEA also predicted that OPEC's production levels would begin to decline after 2009. A long-term estimate of remaining fossil fuels supplies is difficult because many oil and natural gas producing regions, including OPEC, keep their reserve levels secret.

In October 2007, the UN Environment Program released its fourth Global Environment Outlook report. Executive director, Achim Steiner, said "The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns." The report stated that "annual emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels have risen by about one-third since 1987 and that the threat from climate change now was so urgent that only very large cuts in greenhouse gases of 60 to 80 percent could stop irreversible change." The effects of global warming are "accelerating at a pace - beyond the scenarios and models we've been using," said Steiner.