The peak of fossil fuel demand might have already happened – this is the argument put forward by a non-governmental organization Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). This welcome change has not been galvanized by the fight against the climate crisis, but by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
RMI, founded in 1982 to improve American energy efficiency, looked at data on the demand for fossil fuels compared to the demand for renewables. It's looking good for the decarbonization of the world: renewables have been steadily getting more and more popular. However, the situation is not clear-cut.
The COVID-19 pandemic, especially the widespread lockdowns, led to reduced demand for fossil fuels, but that picked up again over the last year. The goal of reaching net-zero by 2050 should have pushed for the decline, but no major greenhouse gas emitter is currently sticking to the goals of the Paris Agreement.
However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine might have given a push to politicians and governments than a future of more extreme weather events had achieved so far – at least according to RMI. The peak in their analysis was in 2019, and the shift towards an economy beyond fossil fuels is happening now.
“As the world’s largest exporter of fossil fuels, Russia sits on the fault lines of this shift. Its largest customer is Europe. Rising conflict between the two will inevitably mean a long period of uncertainty and stress for fossil fuel markets, a reckoning which will galvanize the energy transition,” writes Kingsmill Bond in a Strategic Analysis & Engagement piece on the NGO’s website.
“The risk of energy security today is a more powerful driver for world leaders than the future of the planet in 30 years.”
The war has pushed the price of fossil fuels higher and higher. Before the invasion, wind and solar energy were cheaper than fossil fuels in 85 percent of the world. Compared to current prices, they are cheaper almost everywhere.
This might bring forth other related changes in industries that heavily rely on fossil fuels to move beyond those needs and towards a greener economy.