Business underestimating catastrophic consequences of declining oil, says Lloyd’s of London/ISS report
One of the City’s most respected institutions has warned of “catastrophic consequences” for businesses that fail to prepare for a world of increasing oil scarcity and a lower carbon economy.
The Lloyd’s insurance market and the highly regarded Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS, known as Chatham House) says Britain needs to be ready for “peak oil” and disrupted energy supplies at a time of soaring fuel demand in China and India, constraints on production caused by the BP oil spill and political moves to cut CO2 to halt global warming.
“Companies which are able to take advantage of this new energy reality will increase both their resilience and competitiveness. Failure to do so could lead to expensive and potentially catastrophic consequences,” says the Lloyd’s and ISS report “Sustainable energy security: strategic risks and opportunities for business”.
The insurance market has a major interest in preparedness to counter climate change because of the fear of rising insurance claims related to property damage and business disruption. The review is groundbreaking because it comes from the heart of the City and contains the kind of dire warnings that are more associated with environmental groups or others accused by critics of resorting to hype. It takes a pot shot at the International Energy Agency which has been under fire for apparently under-estimating the threats, noting: “IEA expectations [on crude output] over the last decade have generally gone unmet.”
The report the world is heading for a global oil supply crunch and high prices owing to insufficient investment in oil production plus a rebound in global demand following recession. It repeats warning from Professor Paul Stevens, a former economist from Dundee University, at an earlier Chatham House conference that lack of oil by 2013 could force the price of crude above $200 (£130) a barrel.
It also quotes from a US department of energy report highlighting the economic chaos that would result from declining oil production as global demand continued to rise, recommending a crash programme to overhaul the transport system. “Even before we reach peak oil,” says the Lloyd’s report, “we could witness an oil supply crunch because of increased Asian demand. Major new investment in energy takes 10-15 years from the initial investment to first production, and to date we have not seen the amount of new projects that would supply the projected increase in demand.”
And while the world is gradually moving to new kinds of clean energy technologies the insurance market warns that there could be shortages of earth metals and other raw materials needed to help them thrive.
Lloyd’s also calls on manufacturers, retailers and the wider business community to reassess global supply chains and their just-in time models because the “current system is increasingly vulnerable to disruption.”
The report says government needs to do much more to bring additional price stability and transparency if the global carbon market is to become a reality.
Richard Ward, chief executive of Lloyd’s, said the failure of the Copenhagen climate change talks last December has helped lull many business leaders into a false sense of security about the challenges ahead. “We are in a period akin to a phony war. We keep hearing of difficulties to come, but with oil, gas and coal still broadly accessible – and largely capable of being distributed where they are needed – the bad times have not yet hit … all businesses … will be affected by energy supplies which are less reliable and more expensive.”