World Energy and climate - in the 21ST century

Published November 1st, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

It is reasonable to expect that by 2100, the developing countries will have attained the same energy consumption, about 3 barrels of oil equivalent per year per capita, as Western Europe today.  


This will imply that the world energy consumption will rise to six times the 2000 level.  


Due to declining fertility rates in all countries, the World population should stabilize to about or less than 10 billion which means that population increase is a relatively minor factor in driving energy demand - it is the desire for all peoples to have good health and reasonable wealth which is dominant. 

However because of the Poverty Trap, developing countries have no choice but to use mainly fossil fuels, and in particular, coal. This will give serious health hazards due principally to particulate matter which will cause millions of deaths per year.  


Studies of paleoclimatology clearly show that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere e.g. from volcanoes, does raise the earth's surface temperature and recent measurements have confirmed that the greenhouse gas effect is occurring now. 


while the rise in sea level and temperature will be relatively moderate this century, the effects will be severe in the 22nd century when the Antarctic ice starts to melt instead of increasing. (It should be remembered that we are in an interglacial period and another ice age appears inevitable ). 


In many countries natural gas is replacing coal as it is cleaner but some countries such as China are forced to use mainly coal so pollution will increase.  


While oil and natural gas will near exhaustion in the middle of the century, the use of oil shale etc. will postpone the problem as the increased cost is less than the tax in many countries.  


The various "renewable" energies which do not emit greenhouse gases, are considered. Wind energy is increasing quickly in certain countries but is dependent on subsidies as are most other renewable.  


The search for a major renewable energy source is described, but while some are niche players, none seem able to replace coal.  


The best chance of a breakthrough seems to be with photovoltaic but at present its high cost means that it is useful mainly when no electric power is available.  


Hydroelectric power is increasing at about the same rate as the world energy despite ecological objections. Solar power is very helpful but does not seem capable of becoming a major cheap energy source. 


Nuclear power could replace fossil fuels and does not give greenhouse or other gases. China is proposing a major reactor building program in affluent countries, there is great opposition which could lead to a major shortfall in electricity when existing reactors are shut-down in 2010 in the USA and in about 2025 in Europe, but no replacement except by fossil fuels is envisaged.  


The overall conclusion, based on the assumptions that technology improves but that human nature does not change, is that to obtain health and reasonable wealth for all peoples, energy production will rise several times, greenhouse gases will increase as fossil fuels will continue to be the main energy source. 


Unless and until renewable energies have been shown to be able to replace coal, the nuclear power option should be considered and research should be done which would make it acceptable.  

Duglas R.O. Morrison ( Energy expert. Ex-cern staff. ) 


NOTE :The paper was first published on Oapec “Issue No.93, Volume 25 of the “Oil and Arab Cooperation” . 


© 2000 Mena Report (

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