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World oil markets have rebounded from the massive demand shock triggered by Covid-19 but still face a high degree of uncertainty that is testing the industry as never before, according to a new IEA report. 

The forecast for global oil demand has shifted lower, and demand could peak earlier than previously thought if a rising focus by governments on clean energy turns into stronger policies and behavioural changes induced by the pandemic become deeply rooted, according to Oil 2021, the IEA’s latest annual medium-term market report. But in the report’s base case, which reflects current policy settings, oil demand is set to rise to 104 million barrels a day (mb/d) by 2026, up 4% from 2019 levels.

“The Covid-19 crisis caused a historic decline in global oil demand – but not necessarily a lasting one. Achieving an orderly transition away from oil is essential to meet climate goals, but it will require major policy changes from governments as well as accelerated behavioural changes. Without that, global oil demand is set to increase every year between now and 2026,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “For the world’s oil demand to peak anytime soon, significant action is needed immediately to improve fuel efficiency standards, boost electric vehicle sales and curb oil use in the power sector.”

Those actions – combined with increased teleworking, greater recycling and reduced business travel – could reduce oil use by as much as 5.6 mb/d by 2026, which would mean that global oil demand never gets back to where it was before the pandemic.

Asia will continue to dominate growth in global oil demand, accounting for 90% of the increase between 2019 and 2026 in the IEA report’s base case. By contrast, demand in many advanced economies, where vehicle ownership and oil use per capita are much higher, is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels.

On the supply side, the heightened uncertainty over the outlook has created a dilemma for producers. Investment decisions made today could either bring on too much capacity that is left unused or too little oil to meet demand. Only a marginal rise in global upstream investment is…

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