Global energy futures amidst covid-19

Everyone knows the energy requirements all over the world is essential in contemporary world to meet up the requirements of population growth, economic development and technological progress. The broad pluralism that characterizes energy geographies, and the uncertainties which surrounds energy futures around the globe has become significant in present times under the Covid-19 pandemic. There is an urgent requirement to look at the relationship between the spatial form of socio-ecological systems and energy availability, production, distribution, and use at various geographical scales. In other words we have to gaze at the national and regional differences and how they are intertwined with inter and intra-regional distribution of political-economy power.

From jet fuel and heating oil to fertilizers and plastics, the extractive industrial spaces produce many products, essential to modern life across nearly all demographic groups. In contemporary times, the entire mobile world is embedded in ‘Fossils-Fuel Landscape’ or say ‘Inter-Connected Fossils-Fuel Societies’ controlled by International oil and gas companies or ‘Big gas-oils’ and State-owned ‘Gas-oil firms’. Both these, across the nations, have almost come to a halt.  The first half of 2020 year is marked by the State-enforced lockdowns issued by regional and national governments around the world. These transformations are historically and geographically unprecedented in scale, according to current estimates, with about more than 40% of the global population impacted by these new measures.

As a result, different systems of mobility which are subsumed in Fossils-Fuel-Societies across the world for work and production, for leisure and travel and business etcetera, especially, the physical mobility of humans through aero-machines from one place to another is reduced drastically as demographic groups around the world started staying indoors. Pragmatically, these systems are considered to be the engines of all the economies. Of course, this unprecedented Pandemic has wiped out the energy demands, particularly in terms of ‘Oil’ across the world of a scale that is certainly unbelievable. This jolt has been encountered by billions from rich to poor and many of its repercussions are inevitable in highly interconnected world in terms of economic, social, cultural and political aspects.

In the beginning of 19th century, with the invention of steam engine, coal became a valuable commodity. It had replaced traditional non-fossils energy sources and supplied for primary energy needs of industrialized countries. By 20th century, in global energy supply chains, coal remained a dominant energy source which supplied close to two-thirds of global energy needs by the end of World War I. However, post World War II there was a peak demand in the market of oil, partly due to oil’s attractiveness for the transportation sector, where demand has risen steadily along with changing geo-politics and geo-economics. Although, coal remains a dominant source of energy in contemporary times even after many paradoxes.

The oil crisis of 1970s brought about two specific events occurring in the Middle-east, the Yom-Kippur War of 1973 and Iranian Revolution of 1979. Both events resulted in disruption of oil supplies from the region which created difficulties for the nations that relied on energy exports from the region. Post-1970s, oil industry have become one of the substantial global extent along with high level of geographical integration. There was a geographical spreading of extractives, activities and diversification of supply outside OPEC countries, started mainly after 1970s. Simultaneously, geopolitical tensions linked to oil continued in following decades, as shown by Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led in few months doubling of oil prices and triggered U.S.A. economic recession and geopolitical tensions in other countries. In wrapping up, oil energy systems are concentrated in ‘difficult’ places and are highly vulnerable and risky, in addition oil systems emit high amount of carbon to the environment.

The historical path of international oil price fluctuation shows it is not only the supply and demand and other traditional market factors, but it also is because of the competition between the economies. The diversity and complex structure of the influencing factors of international oil price increase the difficulty to predict the exact international oil trend. In current times, it becomes crucial to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and we need to shift our paradigm in terms of production and consumption of global energies. There is a need for transition from (oil based) neoliberalism towards sustainable, clean and low carbon economies; making it a ground reality in order to plan for recovery due to pandemic so that we can achieves maximum economic impacts and create new employments around the world.  The ways in which energy production and consumption mediates, and is mediated by, spatial politics and human-environment relationships, the study of place-based solutions becomes necessary as there are number of gaps in knowledge and policy imperatives to which geographical concepts and techniques are well suited. Geography’s methodological and traditions enable strong multidisciplinary research which can engage the complexities of energy realities.

In contemporary societies the way forward in improving global energy securities amidst covid-19 pandemic, improving oil utilization ratio through technological innovation and promotion of alternative (low carbon/clean) energy source, and promote the regional diversification of energy. Also, developing economies, the largest consumers of oil, should fill up their strategic reserves, negotiate long term contracts at current prices, intensify the cooperation with ‘Big Oil’ countries. All countries should encourage more domestic companies to participate actively in world oil markets to restrict risk and developing their own oil quotation systems in their potential regions. Once the covid-19 pandemic diminishes, and world returns back to its routine, it will become mandatory for global economies to re-structure the energy infrastructure for human welfare. At the end, we  need to fill the energy gap or energy poverty between rich and poor and bring everyone on same platform.

The author teaches Geography at the GDC, Gool (Ramban)

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