Monday, March 07, 2005

Energy Futures

In one scenario, which the media and the United Nations say is just within reach, the world in 2050 will be producing smaller amounts of 'Greenhouse gases' as nations reduce their fossil fuels consumption.

French President Jacques Chirac called on Tuesday for developed countries to cut gas emissions to a quarter of current levels by 2050 -- exceeding targets set by the Kyoto pact to combat global warming. ... "We must go further -- divide by four by 2050 the greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries. The next G8 summit must be an opportunity for advancing in this direction," Chirac told a working group, according to the Elysee presidential palace.

But the investment dollars and great states are decisively betting the exact opposite will happen. A Congressional Research Service Report Rising Energy Competition and Energy Security in Northeast Asia (available from Gallerywatch.Com)  shows that world consumption of petroleum will increase dramatically, driven by economic growth in North America and Asia Pacific. The projected US consumption for petroleum will grow from 24 in 2001 to 34 million barrels per day in 2020. In that period, Asian consumption will grow to equal that of the United States and will be poised to exceed it.

Although China still depends on coal to meet nearly 65% of its energy consumption, it surpassed Japan in 2003 to become the world’s second largest oil consuming country after the United States. ... If China reaches per capita consumption levels comparable to South Korea, its demand will be twice that of the United States and push up the worldwide demand for oil by at least 20%. (CRS 8)

This gigantic appetite for petroleum has had two immediate effects. It has made China dependent on ever-increasing quantities Middle Eastern oil and turned it into rival of Japan, and to a lesser extent the United States, for new sources of oil and gas. Over the same period European petroleum consumption is projected to remain unchanged, largely as a consequence of flat growth, a bystander to this unfolding drama. The two great Asian nation's need for oil has embroiled them in a rivalry for the reserves in Russian Siberia.

Although the Russian Far East’s promise is significant, many strategists have cast doubt on the commercial viability of tapping the Far East’s reserves. This has not discouraged China and Japan from engaging in a bidding war over Russian projects to bolster their energy security. ... The opening round of the contest centers around negotiations on proposed pipeline routes from the eastern Siberian oilfield of Angarsk. Beijing reportedly wants the pipeline to terminate at Daqing, China’s flagship oilfield with refining facilities in the industrial northeast, while Tokyo is lobbying for it to terminate in the Russian port of Nakhodka, near Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan and a short tanker trip away from Japan. (CRS 11)

The Sino-Japanese competition has all the hallmarks of a ding-dong NBA final going down to the wire.

An agreement between Russia and China, endorsed by both President Putin and President Hu, stalled, however, after the arrest of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chairman of Yukos, the company that had been selected to construct the pipeline. ... Although Beijing reportedly thought it had secured the deal, the most recent reports have indicated that Putin is leaning toward the Nakhodka option because of Japan’s generous pledge of infrastructure development assistance. (CRS 11)

To make matters more interesting, Russia has to contend with another great power in southern Central Asia -- the United States.

China’s thirst for oil has led to new partnerships with Central Asian states, an area of traditional rivalry between great powers. Moscow is challenged by Beijing’s inroads with members of the former Soviet empire, and both continental powers are aware of expanded American presence with the establishment of U.S. bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The three powers will likely remain very attentive to the sensitive issue of pipeline construction. (CRS 17)

Yet even the great reserves of Central Asia will be unlikely to satisfy the gargantuan demands of China. Between 2001 and 2020, Siberian oil field production is predicted to rise from 8 to 15 million barrels per day. In that period, Middle Eastern oil field output will climb from 22 to 36 million barrels per day and every drop of that will be required to meet the projected demand. (CRS 2). China, once capable of isolating itself from the world, will become dependent for its economic existence on oilfields in the distant Middle East and the ability to transport the fuel to its factories.

In March 2004, Saudi Arabia announced that, in a bid for stronger ties with China and Russia, it had granted contracts to oil companies from those countries to explore for natural gas reserves in the kingdom after talks with American firms collapsed. Some scholars have posited that Asian nations’ competition for energy supplies with the West could lead to an eventual Middle East-Asia nexus, in which Asian governments become more politically close with the Gulf states in order to secure long-term access, thereby marginalizing U.S. power. Other observers have envisioned dire scenarios that could emerge from a protracted U.S.-China struggle over oil, including an increasingly close China-Saudi Arabia relationship that could lay the groundwork for a world war-level conflict. (CRS 18)

Still others see China growing closer to the United States due to a commonality of interests. As the procession of tankers leaving the Persian Gulf bound for Chinese ports grows, the one nation that could instantly shut of the supply through maritime blockade would be the United States. A risk-averse China might see it in its interest to cooperate with Japan and the United States to create a stable and prosperous Middle East, essentially duplicating Japanese policy.

Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba was recently quoted as saying, “To have other all the unpleasant, hard things, while we take the oil after Iraq becomes affluent and peaceful through the painful efforts of the rest of the world, I don’t think that would be acceptable.” Prime Minister Koizumi has asserted that stability in the Middle East is in Japan’s national interest because of its dependence on the region’s oil. ... Japan’s unprecedented deployment of Self Defense Forces to Iraq, as well as its active encouragement of Southeast Asian nations to join the U.S.- led Proliferation Security Initiative, may be indications of this trend.

However that may be, the CRS report paints a picture of a world far, far different from that envisioned by the Kyoto Protocol: one in which a senescent Europe of uncertain composition dreams under the protection of the Pacific hemisphere. Which comes to pass depends on many things that cannot be foreseen, such as unanticipated technological breakthroughs and on the statecraft of the next two decades.