19 December 2016
2016 has been a tough year for predictions. Political pollsters and pundits are revisiting their work to make sense of what went wrong. So it is with trepidation that I revisit the six predictions on energy and climate change I made at the beginning of the year.
‘Eventually’ was indeed the story of oil markets in 2016. After a year of continued low oil prices, OPEC, at the coaxing of Saudi Arabia, agreed on November 30th to cut production in order to boost prices. The politics behind this move are debated, but it is likely that Saudi Arabia has been pumping at full tilt to keep the pressure on higher cost operators but is now running out of capacity to do so.
While the data is still coming in, this prediction looks almost certain to be true. For the first year ever, the majority of new capacity installed globally was from renewables.
In the previous blogs I’ve written about how these renewables records shouldn’t be surprising, but the International Energy Agency (IEA) continues to underestimate renewables growth by applying a linear (constant installation rate) rather than exponential growth rate. This results in a peacock-like graph of upward revisions:
Last month the IEA released their 2016 World Energy Outlook and have significantly increased their forecast for renewables, while still assuming a slowdown in the growth rate after 2020. Don’t be surprised if a couple more feathers need to be added.
Verdict: Likely correct
Early in the year it was announced that for the first time more investment in renewables came from developing countries than developed countries. This was due not just to a rapid rise in investment in emerging economies, but also due to falling investment in developed economies. Recent data indicates that the fall in investment in developed countries is bringing down total investment.
Data is still coming in on vehicle sales, although sales of Toyota hybrids (conventional) have been high throughout the year. Yet the much bigger story is with electric vehicles (including plug-in hybrids), which now total over 1 million in circulation and is estimated to reach 400 million (35% market share) by 2040. Booming growth in EVs combined with automated driving and new ownership models has shaken up the business model for cars more than anything in nearly a century. That said, it could be argued that the political elections of 2016 were the biggest news story of the year, even for energy matters.
Verdict: Mostly correct.
The most recent data shows that global greenhouse gas emissions have remained roughly the same (zero growth). The good news is that this is further evidence of the possibility to decouple GDP growth and global emissions – at least to an extent. The bad news is that stalling emissions also means that they are at record highs. This level of emissions is not balanced with the planet’s means to absorb them so the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is still increasing as fast as ever. Including land use change in the calculation of emissions would mean an increase in emissions of 2%, but these are notoriously difficult to measure.
Verdict: Too close to call.
One prediction I was hoping to be wrong about was this one on climate change, but 2016 has been a scorcher of a year. According to the three major temperature datasets, 2016 will be the hottest year on record.
Incredibly the ‘global warming pause’ is still being referenced by some climate sceptics, although it does appear that the next argument, that global warming has some positive features, is now being referenced more. In a year where ‘post-truth’ became a phrase, climate change denial was not an exception. Donald Trump apparently still believes his claims on the campaign trail that climate change is a fiction,
Verdict: Right about the climate, wrong on the media coverage.
So there it is. All things considered 4.5 or 5 out of 6 isn’t too bad. More importantly is that the hard reality – whatever Donald Trump thinks — is that while climate change is definitely real and definitely happening, there is an unstoppable momentum behind renewables and electric vehicles. Nonetheless, we all have our work cut out in 2017. Stay tuned for our thoughts on the year ahead.
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