Fossil fuels, long regarded for their high-energy return on investment, are not as efficient as once thought. In fact, their final yields are not much better than those of renewable options, according to a new study.
Oil, coal and natural gas have generally returned energy at a ratio of 25:1, meaning that for every barrel of oil used in production, 25 barrels have been made. But that measurement, called energy return on investment (EROI), has traditionally been taken when fossil fuels are removed from the ground, and fails to account for energy used during the refining process.
Rich western countries and the world’s leading developing nations are spending up to $200bn (£130bn) a year subsidising fossil fuels, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The Paris-based thinktank said its 34 members plus six of the biggest emerging economies – China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa – were spending money supporting the consumption and production of coal, oil and gas that should be used to tackle climate change.
Increasing use of fossil fuels is disrupting Earth on an “almost unfathomable scale”, a top Vatican official has said, warning that a “full conversion” of hearts and minds is needed if global warming is to be conquered.
Fossil fuel.companies face an increasingly “acute” risk of becoming “stranded assets”, as a result of climate change policies, changing economics such as plunging commodity prices, and the impact of new technologies such as solar and storage.
Envoys from some 190 nations are taking more seriously the idea of setting a goal for phasing out the pollution from fossil fuels, lending support to the movement against investments in oil and coal companies.
After a week of discussions in Geneva, delegates convened by the United Nations adopted an 86-page draft document with options including the near-elimination of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 or 2100 — or to suck the most destructive fumes out of the atmosphere by 2080.
The Overseas Development Institute says G20 nations spent almost £56bn ($90bn) a year finding oil, gas and coal.
It comes despite evidence that two thirds of existing reserves must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.