Over the last two centuries, life expectancy has roughly doubled as oil, gas and coal have helped improve the standard of living of billions of people, particularly in the Western world.
Nevertheless, as our quality of life has consistently improved, we have also spewed CO2 into the atmosphere, reducing the amount of emissions that the earth could handle before its climate changed. It is now urgent that we limit those emissions and keep the increase in the average global temperature to below 2°C.
While the Paris Agreement has been historic, the national commitments that it prompted are not enough to reach that target.
According to the International Energy Agency, Paris put us on track for a 2.7°C increase in the average global temperature by 2100.
The issue is particularly important for our business.
Eni is at the centre of many climate initiatives, including financial disclosure linked to climate, which we support and promote as part of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.
We believe that the only way we can realistically stay within the 2°C is by rebalancing the current energy mix towards natural gas – which emits much less CO2 than comparable fuels – while continuing to invest in renewables.
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Such a shift will be successful only if we engage with the developing world, managing to provide clean and affordable energy to the billions of people who still don’t have fair access to it.
Let’s first look at the energy mix. Efforts to rebalance it have been disjointed and sometimes counterproductive. Until renewables reach critical scale, we need to reduce the use of polluting fuels, while favouring the least polluting alternatives, among which gas is the best example.
Coal is an obvious problem: it meets 29% of the demand for energy, but it is responsible for 46% of the emissions.
If we could switch all coal to gas tomorrow, we would be half way to achieving enough cuts in emissions to keep temperatures within 2°C.
Power plant limits
One way of encouraging that switch is to introduce CO2 emission limits for power plants, which would be allowed to access funding mechanisms, or simply to run at all, only if they emit less than a given threshold: for example 550 grams of CO2 per Kilowatt/hour, as being debated in Europe.
Biomass, once hailed as a renewable saviour, is equally problematic. Its massive use, mostly in developing countries to heat and cook food, causes around 4 million deaths per year from respiratory illness, and contributes to deforestation and desertification.
The developing world will be key to the success of such a shift in the energy mix.
This means, especially for Europe, looking at Africa.
Countries in the continent are often rich in resources, but their citizens have long been denied fair access to energy. These countries need low carbon infrastructure and reliable sources of supply, in order for all of us to collectively meet our climate goals.
To make this happen, we have to make sure that African resources benefit Africa.
Gas production offers an opportunity for cleaner and easier access to energy.
New discoveries of natural gas in Egypt – as well as in nearby Cyprus and Israel – and the emerging production hub of Mozambique, will supplement existing flows from West Africa, enabling the development of an expanded, more integrated and more flexible gas market.
At Eni, we are committing to deliver to local markets a large part of the gas discoveries that we are developing across the continent.
Cooperation between Europe and Africa is key. It will bring new investments and technologies, increasing energy access and stability, to the benefit of all in both regions.
But the clock is ticking: we have already consumed more than two thirds of our carbon budget. We have to act now to ensure we meet the 2°C target, while effectively extending to the developing world the benefits brought about by oil and gas.
Developing the use of gas while investing in renewables is the way forward.