COVID-19 Collides with Geopolitics and Energy on The New Map by Daniel Yergin
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new disruption to a world already struggling over how to satisfy its energy needs, address climate change and cope with new power relationships in a complex new era of "Energy Transition," according to a new book, The New Map: Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations, by IHS (News - Alert) Markit Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin.
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Cover: "The New Map: Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations" by Daniel Yergin. Published by Penguin Press September 15, 2020. (Photo: Business Wire)
"As a result of the pandemic, an uncharted chasm has suddenly appeared on the map, which the world is now beginning to work its way around," Yergin writes.
In The New Map, Yergin, author of The Quest and The Prize (for which he received the Pulitzer Prize) looks at an energy world already being reshaped by myriad forces-from the remarkable change in the energy position of the United States in the middle of a contentious presidential election, to geopolitical tension with China and Russia, to the reappearance of the electric car, the growing global role of renewables and the "post-Paris" era of energy transition.
"This is no simple map to follow, for it is dynamic, constantly changing," Yergin says, as major countries chart intersecting and sometimes conflicting geopolitical paths in a new era of "great power competition."
This already-disrupted world is now being further disrupted by the coronavirus and its dire impacts on people's daily lives and the habits that underpin the global energy system. "The office of the future" for many will end up "at home", he writes, which will mean less commuting, and thus reducing gasoline demand. But that will be offset by more people driving their own cars to avoid mingling with others on public transportation, as indicated by the upsurge in the sale of used cars indicates. And "electrons will replace molecules" as business travelers make more of their trips digitally, rather than in airplanes.
The coronavirus has also opened a wholly new era for world oil-what Yergin calls the era of the "Big Three"-the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
When the coronavirus triggered the shutdown of entire economies, what Yergin describes as the "economic dark age," it causedan unprecedented collapse in oil demand and (briefly) the unthinkable-oil priced at less than zero. That is when the United States, now the world's largest oil producer, took the extraordinary step of brokering an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia to rebalance the market.
The pandemic also raises the big question: will the coronavirus upheaval speed or hinder the much-debated "Energy Transition" from fossil fuels to renewables? Yergin recommends a degree of caution against expectations for a rapid transformation.
"The notion of a fast track to a wholesale energy transition runs up against major obstacles: the sheer scale of the energy system, the need for reliability, the demand for mineral resources for renewables, and the disruptions that would result from speed," Yergin writes. "On top of all of that is the high cost of a fast transition and the question of who pays for it-especially given the staggering amounts of debt that governments took on in 2020 to fight the economic consequences of the coronavirus."
"Energy transition certainly means something very different to a developing country such as India, where hundreds of millions of impoverished people do not have access to commercial energy, than to Germany or the Netherlands," he adds.
Yergin also observes how the global health crisis has underscored the role of plastics, made from oil and natural gas-whether for food and sanitary purposes, its multiple applications in hospital operating rooms, the indispensable N-95 mask or the-now-ubiquitous plastic shields that protect shopkeepers and essential workers.
The New Map is also a story of the clashing paths of global powers:
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