Will the world never again see a jump in demand for oil? BP says ‘it’s over’
BP Plc said the relentless growth of oil demand is over, becoming the first supermajor to call the end of an era many thought would last another decade or more.
Oil consumption may never return to levels seen before the coronavirus crisis took hold, BP said in a report on Monday. Even its most bullish scenario sees demand no better than “broadly flat” for the next two decades as the energy transition shifts the world away from fossil fuels.
BP is making a profound break from orthodoxy. From the bosses of corporate energy giants to ministers from OPEC states, senior figures from the industry have insisted that oil consumption will see decades of growth. Time and again, they have described it as the only commodity that can satisfy the demands of an increasing global population and expanding middle class.
The UK giant is describing a different future, where oil’s supremacy is challenged, and ultimately fades. That explains why BP has taken the boldest steps so far among peers to align its business with the goals of the Paris climate accord. Just six months after taking the top job, Chief Executive Officer Bernard Looney said in August he’d shrink oil and gas output by 40% over the next decade and spend as much as $5 billion a year building one of the world’s largest renewable-power businesses.
That’s because he suspects oil use may already have peaked as a result of the pandemic, stricter government policies and changes in consumer behaviour. BP’s energy outlook shows consumption slumping 50% by 2050 in one scenario, and by almost 80% in another. In a “business-as-usual” situation, demand would recover but then flatline near 100 million barrels a day for the next 20 years.
BP isn’t the only big oil company adapting its business to the energy transition. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Total SE and others in Europe have announced similar pivots toward cleaner operations as customers, governments and investors increasingly call for change.
Three Possible Futures
BP’s report comes ahead of three days of online briefings starting Monday on its clean-energy and climate strategy. The study considers three scenarios, which aren’t predictions but nevertheless cover a wide range of possible outcomes over the next 30 years and form the basis of the new strategy Looney announced in August.
The “Rapid” approach sees new policy measures leading to a significant increase in carbon prices. The “Net Zero” course reinforces Rapid with big shifts in societal behaviour, while the “Business-as-usual” projection assumes that government policies, technology and social preferences continue to evolve as they have in the recent past.