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The Energy 202: Oil giant makes business case for taking climate change seriously

with Paulina Firozi and Dino Grandoni


The chief economist of one of the world’s biggest oil companies is urging other companies to take climate change seriously — and sooner rather than later. 

If not, it might be bad for business. 

That’s the warning from BP’s Spencer Dale, who made the rounds in Washington last week explaining the business case for finding a solution for the warming planet. 

“All the climate arguments are real, urgent and important,” Dale said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Despite working for one of the world’s biggest producers of fossil fuels, Dale said the longer the world waits to address rising emissions, the more “draconian” the changes in the global economy will have to be.

“How do I run a business, how do I make a business plan if I know that the path I’m on is unstable?” Dale asked.

For a multinational energy firm operating in dozens of countries, that could mean having to scrap assets, Dale said.

The provocative economist spent more than a decade working for the Bank of England before joining the oil giant. At the end of February, Dale led the publication of BP’s annual energy outlook, which is widely anticipated among energy industry followers.

At the center of the report’s most likely scenario for the future is the tension between the pressing need to slash carbon emissions and the growing demand for energy as the global population grows and seeks better livelihoods.

The best way to deal with that, Dale said, is to boost the energy efficiency of buildings and other systems.

Still, in all of BP’s scenarios, oil would still be widely used in 2040. The amount could vary from 80 million barrels a day to 130 million barrels a day — a huge gap. Yet even the low-end scenario would require trillions of dollars of investment just in petroleum over the next 20 years.

Indeed, history shows how hard it has been for societies to move from one form of power production to another, Dale said. Previous energy transitions have taken about four or five decades, he said.

It took almost 45 years, for example, for oil to go from 1 percent of world energy in the late 1800s to 10 percent. It took natural gas more than half a century to catch on.

Renewables will penetrate the global energy system faster than any fuel in history, Dale said, going from 1 percent to 10 percent in just 15 years.  

But BP’s analysis suggests that is not fast enough to stem the growth of climate-warming emissions. Even though new renewable energy will satisfy about half of the new energy demand, carbon dioxide emissions are likely to increase by about 10 percent instead of falling sharply as needed to stem climate change.

Overall, global energy demand probably will grow by around a third by 2040, slower than the previous 20 years but still enough to make it difficult to lower greenhouse gas emissions as needed.

Around 80 percent of that increase in demand will come from the developing world, yet a substantial proportion — two-thirds — of the world’s population will still consume low amounts of energy 21 years from now.

BP has said it wants the federal government to take action, having endorsed a $40-a-ton nationwide tax. But that doesn't mean the company always supports carbon taxes in practice. BP spent more than any other company last year to defeat a carbon-fee ballot initiative in the state of Washington that the company said was "poorly designed." The proposal ultimately fell short with voters in November.


— Trump vows "A Plus treatment" in South after deadly tornadoes: After a devastating tornado outbreak tore through parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, claiming at least 23 lives, President Trump tweeted that he directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give the state of Alabama “A Plus treatment.” An agency spokeswoman told USA Today it’s working closely with emergency management units in both Alabama and Georgia. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) thanked the president for his support and said she had spoken with Trump as well as FEMA Administrator Brock Long about resources needed.

That’s not what California and Puerto Rico heard: Amid the quick vocal support for Alabama, leaders in other parts of the country who have been hit by natural disasters may have been wondering why they didn’t receive the same response, The Post’s Reis Thebault writes. “Trump’s enthusiastic assurance that Alabama would get top-flight help contrasts sharply with his barbed rhetoric following horrific wildfires in California and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, when he repeatedly threatened to cut off federal aid and picked fights with local politicians, in one instance calling the mayor of San Juan ‘totally incompetent.’” The president’s critics say the reason is obvious. “The president has politicized recovery efforts in a way we’ve never seen before,” Rafael Lemaitre, who was a FEMA director of public affairs in the Obama administration, told The Post. “FEMA needs to be as much of an apolitical agency as possible. It shouldn’t matter whether you live in a red state or a blue state.”

— Another (more insidious) disaster bias: White Americans and those who are wealthier frequently get more federal aid after a disaster compared with minorities or those who are less wealthy, according to an investigation from NPR. That’s because the federal dollars doled out after a disaster aren’t “necessarily allocated to those who need it most; it's allocated according to cost-benefit calculations meant to minimize taxpayer risk,” per the report. Nowhere is that discrepancy more apparent than in urban flooding. In an examination of one particular federal program to buy out homes that have been flooded or otherwise impacted by natural disasters, an analysis of 40,000 property buyouts funded by FEMA and state and local governments found “most of them were in neighborhoods that were more than 85 percent white and non-Hispanic.” 

— “He needs to get with the rest of Americans”: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) continued his criticism of Trump’s weekend remarks on wind energy, calling the comments “moronic.” “When Donald Trump said we're not going to have toasters and TVs if we have wind power, that's just simply moronic, is the best way I can say it,” Inslee said in an interview with ABC's “The View.” “He needs to get with the rest of Americans that understand the country that sent a man to the moon can develop a clean-energy economy.” In a rambling speech on Saturday, Trump mocked the Green New Deal, saying “when the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric.”

— “If Washington is not going to lead, Minnesota will lead”: Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced a plan to get the state’s electricity providers to generate all energy from clean sources by 2050. During his announcement, Walz criticized inaction at the federal level and stressed decarbonization is an “economic and moral” responsibility, Minnesota Public Radio reports. “Walz's plan also would require utilities to prioritize efficient, clean energy sources over fossil fuels anytime they propose new power generation,” per the report. “The governor's office said this proposal would strengthen existing law and allow for fossil fuel power only if required ‘to ensure reliable, affordable electricity.’”

— Uranium firm met with Interior before Bears Ears review: Energy Fuels Resources Inc., a company with ties to mineral interests in Bears Ears National Monument area, met with a top Interior Department official less than a month before Trump called for a review that led to a significant reduction of the monument’s boundaries, Roll Call reports. That meeting could be probed by House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) who has said he plans to investigate the monuments review. “He said if an individual involved with the review met with Energy Fuels before the review began, ‘all my suspicions as to the motivation behind the shrinkage would be validated,’” Roll Call reports. 

Also of note: Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act "show Andrew Wheeler, confirmed Feb. 28 as the new EPA administrator, was integral to getting Energy Fuels Resources’ foot in the door before the review," per the report.


— WWF's "secret war": An extensive investigation from BuzzFeed News found the World Wide Fund for Nature, better known as WWF, has helped fund and provide equipment and weapons for paramilitary anti-poaching units “implicated in atrocities against indigenous communities.” “In national parks across Asia and Africa, the beloved nonprofit with the cuddly panda logo funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people,” the report found. The investigation, based on more than 100 interviews and thousands of documents and communications, reports villagers have been attacked and killed by anti-poaching groups that are supported by the wildlife organization. WWF told BuzzFeed News that “human rights abuses are totally unacceptable and can never be justified in the name of conservation,” and it has launched an “independent review” of the publication’s findings. 


— The road ahead for Tesla: Just days after the company announced it would move to online sales and close several stores nationwide to maintain the price tag on its Model 3 sedan, the electric automaker said it would unveil a Model Y crossover SUV next week, The Post’s Hamza Shaban reports. Compared with the Model 3, the Model Y will be “10 percent more expensive, 10 percent bigger, and will have ‘slightly less range’ on a single battery charge,” chief executive Elon Musk said on Twitter.

— Oil watch: The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries could wait until June to decide on an oil output policy, Reuters reports, because of concerns that a decision by the April meeting of the group and its allies would be “too early to get a clear picture of the impact of their supply cuts on the market.” “The sources said the production policy by the OPEC+ alliance is expected to be agreed on in June with an extension of the pact the likely scenario so far, but much depends on the extent of U.S. sanctions on both OPEC members Iran and Venezuela,” Reuters adds.



  • The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety holds a hearing on states’ role in protecting air quality.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the electricity sector and climate change.
  • Politico hosts an event on environmental sustainability.

Coming Up

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearingon the policies and priorities of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the U.S. Geological Survey on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on highway infrastructure on Wednesday.
  • The House Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment holds a hearing on PFAS chemicals and their risks on Wednesday.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee holds a hearing on leadership in science and technology on Wednesday.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the energy water nexus on Thursday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife holds an oversight hearing on threats to the North Atlantic Right Whale on Thursday.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies holds a hearing on energy workforce opportunities and challenges on Thursday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a roundtable on issues related to public lands in the Western United States on Thursday.

— "You're going to tell me how to do my job": In an unaired sketch, “Saturday Night Live” took a jab at the exchange Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had with young climate activists in her office last month. The clip was cut from the weekend broadcast for time.