Energy experts propose four-month plan to cut global oil demand

global oil demand, fossil fuel
© Vichaya Kiatyingangsulee

The International Energy Agency (IEA) say that a set of actions, taken for four months, could cut global oil demand by 2.7 million barrels per day

As the war in Ukraine continues, there is a clamour to stop global dependency on Russian oil, gas and coal. The export of oil and gas from Russia is worth 4.9% of the country’s GDP, as of 2020. Currently, the world is facing an imminent energy crisis – with supplies strained already, before the war.

Advanced economies are responsible for 50% of global oil use

July and August are the peak seasons for global oil demand, with usage spiking across continents – especially in advanced economies, which are responsible for 50% of oil use.

The IEA published a ten-point plan of emergency measures, which could decrease global oil demand by 2.7 million barrels – every day. This proposition is purposefully short-term, with the majority of points relating to the daily habits of consumers.

“As a result of Russia’s appalling aggression against Ukraine, the world may well be facing its biggest oil supply shock in decades, with huge implications for our economies and societies,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

Currently, 27% of European crude oil imports, 41% of natural gas, and a hefty 47% of coal come from Russia. These exact numbers are different from country to country, with Italy mainly relying on Russian gas, while Malta and Greece depend on imports of petroleum products. The EU plan to jumpstart the Green Deal, which would see a significant infrastructural shift to renewable energy sources.

The plan is targeted to advanced economies but partial implementation by emerging economies would also be useful, say the IAE.

Which ten actions could cut 2.7 million barrels from daily use?

  1. Reduce speed limits on highways and motorways, by at least 10 km/h

The lessened speed limit could be implemented by national Governments, which is what happened during the 1973 oil crisis. In the modern context, speed limit reductions are commonly used to reduce air pollution levels. The IPCC Report, published in August, 2021, found that humans are definitively responsible for climate change.

The reduction of speed limits could save 290 kb/d of oil use from cars, with an additional 140 kb/d saved from trucks – which are largely responsible for transporting goods, an essential part of the global economy.

2. Work from home up to three days a week where possible

The IEA estimate that working from up, up to three days per week, would cut oil demand and reduce fuel bills across advanced economies. The team found that one-third of jobs in these economies can actually be done from home. The loss of that daily commute would also save around $2-3 US dollars for those using cars.

Essentially, three days a week working from home would save 500 kb/d of fuel.

global oil demand, fossil fuel
© Golubovy

3. Car-free Sundays in all cities

During the 1973 oil crisis, countries like Switzerland and West Germany introduced car-free Sundays as a way to limit the use of oil. The concept is still in use in Tokyo, Brussels, Edinburgh and other cities across the world.

Sundays without cars could lead to around 380 kb/d of fuel.

4. Making public transport cheaper, encouraging more walking and cycling

Another key point, linked to reducing air pollution alongside fuel use, is that Governments should make public transport cheaper – while encouraging more walking and cycling. This transition would result in cleaner air, reduced noise pollution and improved road safety.

Part of this move could be rolling out better incentives for the purchase of electric bikes, especially in cities that have larger distance journeys within them. Right now, Belgium, France and Italy give their residents some money to buy a bicycle, to encourage micro-mobility.

This change would save around 330 kb/d of fuel.

5. Alternate private car access to roads in large cities

In a more novel suggestion, the IAE say that restricting private cars’ use of roads to those with even number-plates some weekdays and to those with odd-numbered plates on other weekdays, really works to reduce fuel.

This is a measure used during the first oil shock, when the Italian government substituted car-free Sundays with an odd/even number plate policy. Since the 1980s, similar schemes have been deployed to fight the immediate impact of climate change – including in Athens, Madrid, Paris, Milan and Mexico City.

This would save around 210 kb/d in large cities that have good public transport options.

6. Increase car sharing and adopt practices to reduce fuel use

Non-urban car trips are responsible for over 4 million barrels a day of oil use in advanced economies, which is a significant chunk of fossil fuel. The use of car-pools is a well-known measure, but enforcement and a change of even car maintenance, could result in individual vehicles using less fossil fuel. The IAE further find that air conditioning in cars is responsible for 4% to 10% of total fuel consumption in advanced economies,

This could save around 470 kb/d of fuel.

7. Promote efficient driving for freight trucks and delivery of goods

Trucks are huge consumers of diesel, but essential for getting things transported across the globe. Measures that would work to stop them using as much fuel in the next four months, includes improving logistics, reducing empty travelling and optimising vehicle loads.

global oil demand, fossil fuel
© Korn Vitthayanukarun

The use of digital tech, such as Artificial Intelligence, can help to streamline this process of making things more efficient.

If successfully implemented, this would save around 230 kb/d of fuel.

8. Using high-speed and night trains instead of planes where possible

In France, the Climate and Resilience law means that the cancellation of flights – if alternatives exist – to reach the destination within two-and-a-half hours. Companies have already started to cut some flights, including between Paris and cities such as Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux.

The use of night trains can be a better means of crossing wider distances, with far less fuel.

This would save around 40 kb/d of fuel in the next four months.

9. Avoid business air travel where alternative options exist

Before the pandemic begun, one-fifth of passenger trips were taken for business purposes in advanced economies. This led to business travel dropping to historic lows, directly impacting air pollution across the globe.

If oil prices are higher, there may be incentive for airlines to stop operating routes that are less in use. Major corporations, such as HSBC and Zurich Insurance, have targets to reduce travel emissions by as much as 70%.

This measure would save around 260 kb/d.

10. Reinforce the adoption of electric and more efficient vehicles

By the end of 2021, 8.4 million electric cars were on the roads in advanced economies, building on record sales in Europe in particular.

Right now, supply chain bottlenecks in semiconductors, vehicle raw materials, and battery materials and manufacturing are creating issues for access to electric vehicles. But the automotive supply chain can be bolstered by less-affected capabilities in other regions of the global market, leading eventually to a decrease in global oil demand.

This measure would save around 100 kb/d.

global oil demand, fossil fuel
© Brian Johnson

“It is an absolute necessity” to stop depending on Russian fossil fuels

The International Energy Agency, founded in 1974 during the oil crisis of the seventies, has deployed an emergency response system during three tragedies – the First Gulf War in January 1991, post-hurricane Katrina in 2005, and finally in 2011, during the Libyan crisis. The group today attempts to push for renewable energy adoption, while representing about 75% of global energy consumption via a coalition of countries.

Minister Barbara Pompili, the Minister for the Ecological Transition of France, said: “France and all European countries must get out of their dependence on fossil fuels, in particular on Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible.”

“It is an absolute necessity, for the climate but also for our energy sovereignty. The plan proposed today by the IEA offers some interesting ideas, some of which are in line with our own ideas to reduce our dependence on oil.”

While these measures could significantly decrease global oil demand, amidst geopolitical pressures, they are intended as part of a multi-faceted long-term approach to the climate crisis.

The energy experts further said that speeding up access to electric vehicles, raising fuel economy standards, boosting alternative fuel supplies, accelerating heat pump deployment, and producing and consuming plastic more sustainably.


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