Bad weather fuelled by oil – the connection between the Spanish oil spill and climate change
Spanish soldiers cleaning up a beach on the Galician coast after the tanker Prestige spilled oil on 13 November 2002.
While WWF volunteers and others are leading a dramatic battle against an oil slick once more and try to keep at least some Spanish beaches clean, WWF points out that we are not likely to see the end of such catastrophes. As long as oil remains the primary energy source of the world, such disasters on marine and coastal biodiversity are very likely to happen even more often. At the same time, burning oil and other fossil fuels such as coal contribute massively to global warming and air pollution affecting human health and causing acid rain.
Crude oil provides about 40% of all present global energy demand, the largest single energy source. Oil exploration is projected to grow by another 60% in the next 30 years, while keeping that high share of world energy use.
Oil is used in power plants and for heating in some countries, but mainly for cars and trucks all over the globe. In the power and heat sector, oil can and should be easily replaced by cleaner natural gas and renewable energies. The Prestige was carrying heavy industrial crude for power plants, thus pointing directly to the need to switch to cleaner fuels for power. However, the main consumer of oil products is the transport sector where strong policies to curb and replace oil demand are desperately needed.
Burning oil is responsible for almost 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution. That is about 45% of all CO2 emissions globally.
However, countries and companies alike are failing to curb the use of fossil fuels, the main cause of climate change and for shipping accidents like the one off the Spanish coast now:
• No country in the world has a serious transport policy that substantively limits and reduces the dependence on oil. Energy and climate policies - if at all - have been mainly focused on the power sector. Such a single sector approach is by far not enough, for tackling climate change or for reducing pollution from crude oil.
• Thus far no oil company has put forward a serious climate plan that would address its full carbon footprint, accounting not only for the emissions from its own operations but also for those caused by the use and burning of the oil products. And despite well-known rhetoric by some more “progressive” oil companies none plans to move away from oil or beyond petroleum.
WWF therefore advocates mandatory and dynamic energy efficiency standards for all transport vehicles and a principal priority for public rail over road transport investment decisions by governments. WWF also supports 'Road Pricing' as key for the implementation of the Polluter Pays Principle. In addition, WWF advocates strong mandatory caps on CO2 emissions to curb carbon pollution from power plants and industry.
There are also many opportunities for fuel shifts away from oil. For instance, by replacing Diesel and gasoline with natural gas in the transport sector, carbon emissions can be cut by 30%. As many urban conglomerates are suffering from bad air pollution and health impacts, mainly in developing countries, natural gas could help to reduce carcinogenic particulates, SO2, Nitrous Oxides and ozone-precursors by up to 95% compared to Diesel and gasoline. Another mid-term solution is the replacement of oil by sustainably produced hydrogen as a zero-emission energy carrier. Substantial investment in this area is essential but thus far has been invisible.
"The complete absence of any serious policy to overcome growing oil demand mainly in the transport sector in Europe is pathetic. To curb oil demand, governments have to start from scratch - but they have to start eventually, if they take climate change and oil pollution serious, said Dr Stephan Singer, head of WWF's European climate and energy policy unit in Brussels.