Fatih Birol’s “I Have A Dream” Speech is Wrong

IEA executive director Fatih Birol gave his renewable energy  “I Have a Dream” speech this week.

In an opinion editorial in The Financial Times, Birol channeled American civil rights prophet Martin Luther King’s 1968 rhetoric as he proclaimed that

“The world is on the cusp of a historic turning point…Demand for each of the three fossil fuels is set to hit a peak in the coming years. This is the first time that a peak in demand is visible for each fuel this decade.”

Fact check—that’s not true. The IEA projected a -36% decrease in fossil fuel final consumption in last year’s 2022 announced pledges scenario (Figure 1).  In that report, consumption of all three fossil fuels were projected to decrease—liquid fuels by -26% from 2021 to 2050, natural gas by -38% and coal by -64%.

Figure 1. -36% decrease in fossil fuel final consumption in IEA’s 2022 announced pledges scenario. Liquid fuels expected to decrease -26% from 2021 to 2050. Natural gas to decrease -38% and coal -64%. Source: IEA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

In this week’s op-ed, Birol went on to say that

“The growth of electric vehicles around the world, especially in China, means oil demand is on course to peak before 2030.”

That’s not true either. Despite the headlines about the explosive growth of EVs as a percent of new car sales, IEA data shows electric passenger cars accounted for only 2.1% of the global fleet in 2022 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Electric passenger cars accounted for 2.1% of the global fleet in 2022. Source: IEA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Birol neither showed nor cited any data in his article but the The Financial Times published an IEA graph in a separate article meant to support his I have a Dream speech (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Oil demand set to plateau. Source: Financial Times.

The graph is problematic because the energy values on the y-axis are about 68% higher than the historical levels indicated by IEA published data (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Historical oil demand data in Fatih Birol’s FT chart are wrong. 2020 and 2021 data are 68% higher than IEA’s WEO 2022 report data. Source: IEA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

I look forward to IEA’s release of its 2023 World Energy Outlook in October so I can decipher what Birol suggested in his recent op-ed. I give him credit for at least acknowledging that progress toward a low-carbon future is inadequate.

“The projected declines in demand we see based on today’s policy settings are nowhere near steep enough to put the world on a path to limiting global warming to 1.5C.”

In the meantime, the world does not need speeches about renewable energy dreams. It needs ruthlessly honest direction from leaders like Birol. He should but will not state that the only solution to climate change is greatly reduce consumption of all energy, not just fossil fuels.

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