This year’s World Energy Outlook

Next week sees the publication of the International Energy Agency’s latest flagship World Energy Outlook, which has been heavily leaked to the Financial Times.  The report makes the same point that I’ve been arguing since prices started to slide from their peak of $147 over the summer (to around $60 today): oil prices are going to go back up. A lot.  As Javier Blas and Carola Hoyos summarise in the FT,

The world economy will witness a $2,000bn shift in wealth and power from oil-consuming countries to members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries as oil prices rise to $200 a barrel by 2030. 

The IEA says that Opec oil reserves are big and cheap enough to increase production and cap oil prices, but it warns: “Investment by these countries is assumed to be constrained by several factors, including conservative depletion policies and geopolitics. “There remains a real risk that underinvestment [bet-ween now and 2015] will cause an oil supply crunch” the report states…

In its report, the IEA sees oil prices reaching $200 by 2030, almost doubling last year’s forecast of $108 by the same year. The report suggests that current oil prices – below $70 a barrel and less than half their peak summer level – are a temporary effect of the economic crisis.

The $200 a barrel figure is the same one mooted by a Chatham House report on oil published in August, which shared the IEA’s concern that the investment needed to bring new production on stream just wasn’t happening fast enough.  The IEA was already worried about that point when it published last year’s Outlook, remember – the fact that prices have crashes to less than half their peak level since then will hardly have helped to bring new investment on stream.

Exactly as with food prices, then, it’s the recent fall in prices that represents the blip – and the recent highs that represent the start of a long term trend.  The IEA’s report is just the latest in a series of very good reasons why policymakers need to get their act together quickly on agreeing collective approaches to resource scarcity issues while the political heat on them is – for a little while – off.

But to repeat what I said in July, massive investment in new oil production just can’t be squared with what needs to happen on climate change.  The global deal that we really need for managing energy security and competition for oil resources is a global framework for climate policy that manages the problem over the full term of its lifecycle – not just the next few years, as with Kyoto, as this is far too short term to give real investment certainty – and that has targets for all countries, not just developed ones.

That, of course, takes us straight back to David’s recent question on developing country participation.  More on that in another post shortly…