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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Will Russia’s War Derail Global Emissions Ambitions?

  • Russia’s war and the sanctions that followed have worsened the world’s growing energy crisis.
  • Experts are predicting that the war could set the world’s climate goals back for years.
  • The tight energy market is driving more countries to ramp up their coal consumption, putting global climate goals in extreme risk.

“Compared to previous oil shocks, this is a different world.” Vehicle industry expert John DeCicco, an engineer at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says that history may not teach us much about how consumers are going to respond to skyrocketing oil prices. In the past, oil price sticker shock has reliably caused consumers to drive less and to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles in order to ease the sting of high prices at the pump. This time, however, increasingly dramatic wealth gaps in many countries around the world may break this pattern. According to DeCicco, the demographic of consumers who are likely to buy new cars is wealthier than in decades past, meaning that purchasing patterns may not shift as dramatically as we have seen before.  This is just one small facet of a massively and rapidly changing economic landscape, however. Economic and geopolitical turmoil has turned the global economy on its head and made the future unpredictable. Big energy companies are not rushing to invest in fossil fuels in spite of the current factors favoring the sector. In addition to the wealthy’s buoyed ability to keep buying gas guzzlers, continued volatility in the energy sector due to continued fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine has driven the world back to fossil fuels with a vengeance. In fact, even as the world has rushed to condemn Putin’s acts of aggression and apparent war crimes in Ukraine and put economic pressure on the Kremlin, Europe’s consumption of Russian oil and gas has actually increased since the onset of the war. According to Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, Europe bought US$24 billion worth of oil and gas in March alone.

Related: Rising Energy Costs Could Push Metal Prices Even Higher

Early last month, the European Commission released a plan to reduce Russian gas imports to Europe by two-thirds this year, with the suggestion to replace 60% of that 101.5 billion cubic meters with gas from other countries, most notably the United States and Qatar, and 33% from renewable energy and conservation efforts. The European Commission cannot enforce this plan, however, and it’s unclear whether European nations will decide to comply. To be sure, weaning Europe off of Russian oil and gas will be a Herculean feat. In the meantime, Ukraine is continuing to plead with the EU to embargo Russian oil and gas completely.

Despite the fact that global oil demand is set to surpass pre-pandemic levels in the short term, Big Oil is well aware that long-term policy targets and public opinion favor renewables. Even in the context of a global energy supply crunch, energy companies have been hesitant to put money into increased fossil fuel production. “The market is scared,” Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann was quoted by Nature. 

All of this points to the reality that the end of the energy supply crunch is not in sight. Bearish leadership in the fossil fuels sector and soaring consumption have left the energy sector in quite a bind. The fallout from sustained sky-high energy prices will be sweeping and devastating in myriad ways. High energy costs and fuel shortages (which translates to fertilizer shortages), in combination with the loss of Russian and Ukrainian grain on the global market, could lead to food price shocks, which are historically one of the most dependable drivers of conflict and political and social unrest. While the world has enough grain to supplement the loss from Ukraine and Russia, price hikes, even if short-lived, will put enormous strain on countries that are already hungry.

What’s more, the tight energy market is driving more and more countries to ramp up their coal consumption, putting global climate goals in extreme risk. While many experts are hopeful that the war in Ukraine will actually catalyze the clean energy transition as the world scrambles to shore up its energy security and independence without reliance on Russian oil and gas, in the short term the trends toward high-emissions fossil fuels are alarming. 

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • George Doolittle on April 09 2022 said:
    If this isn't the most epic fail of the oil refined ICE based platform I don't know what else to call "whatever it is Russia be doing way over yonder there."

    All about "Saint Javelin" drone control and the "info" and all that going on forever now.
  • Mamdouh Salameh on April 09 2022 said:
    The author is wrong to claim that what she describes as Russia’s war could derail global emissions ambitions. In fact, it is the hasty policies of the EU abetted by the hapless IEA to accelerate energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables that caused the energy crisis that has been enveloping the EU months before the Ukraine conflict erupted and also derailing the global emissions ambitions.

    The European energy crisis showed the inadequacy of renewables to satisfy the EU’s electricity demand because of their intermittent nature and caused prices of natural gas to skyrocket to unheard of levels. This has forced European electricity entities to switch from natural gas to the slightly cheaper coal. In so doing, it has enhanced CO2 emissions and retarded the global emissions ambitions by many years.

    And while the Ukraine conflict didn’t cause any disruption of oil, gas and coal supplies, it was the futile calls for sanctioning Russian oil, gas and coal exports that caused prices to skyrocket further thus accelerating the shift in the EU and China from gas to coal and even oil.

    The EU eventually shied away from sanctioning Russian oil and gas supplies first because they are dependent on them and second because they are irreplaceable.

    No one single oil or gas producer in the world or a group of producers can replace Russian crude oil and gas production now or ever.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Lee James on April 10 2022 said:
    We can say for sure that the West no longer has the desire to buy energy from Putin. That was not the case formerly. It looked to me like before the Ukraine war, the West happily bought from Putin as part of a harmonious world trade arrangement, where everyone supposedly benefits.

    Europe, especially, is motivated to greatly reduce fossil fuel dependency on Russia. The question is whether Europe will be able to sustain the effort to develop alternatives. It will be hard.

    The devastation in Ukraine and the associated cost will remind a lot of people, for a very long time, that we should not feed the war machine with the letter Z.
  • DoRight Deikins on April 10 2022 said:
    «... could lead to food price shocks, which are historically one of the most dependable drivers of conflict and political and social unrest. While the world has enough grain to supplement the loss from Ukraine and Russia, price hikes, even if short-lived, will put enormous strain on countries that are already hungry. »

    Exactly!

    We would love to plant more grain here in the place formerly known as the breadbasket of Latin America, if there was fertilizer, insecticides (also petroleum based), and, most importantly, land. Unfortunately surplus grain from the US forced small farmers to sell to large ranchers, who now grow cattle for export to China. Also, unfortunately, farming and ranching are two very different occupations and rarely are the two combined in one person. And the ranchers now own the majority of the land.

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