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Revolution in energy use 'will help curb warming'

BP study points to improvements in efficiency and changing economies

The world is poised for a revolution in the way it uses energy that will boost its efficiency by almost a third and bolster efforts to curb global warming, according to a new study by BP.

But the leap forward in energy use would not be enough in itself to save the world from devastating climate change, BP warned.

The amount of power needed to produce a dollar of economic output – known as energy intensity – will tumble by 31 per cent by 2030, as heavyweight emerging economies such as China and Russia enter the next phase of their development. This will see them reducing energy-intensive industrial production in favour of services and lighter manufacturing, which use far less power, and cutting back on power-hungry construction projects, now that much of the basic infrastructure has been built. Meanwhile, improving production techniques and new technologies will improve business efficiency across the world.

Without any improvement in energy efficiency, world demand for power would double over the next 17 years. But with the projected decline in energy intensity, power use will only increase by 36 per cent – while the ongoing greening of electricity supply means carbon emissions growth will be limited to 26 per cent.

"[None the less] emissions remain well above the required path to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases at the level recommended by scientists (450 ppm)," according to BP's latest Energy Outlook report.

Beyond 450 parts of carbon dioxide per million, experts believe there is little chance of keeping global warming below 2C, the level at which the consequences of climate change become increasingly devastating.

BP also cast doubt on the potential of the UK's much-vaunted shale-gas reserves to make a material difference to the country's energy supply before 2030, and declined to comment on what might happen after that because it was beyond the scope of its report.

BP said that in 2030 North America would still dominate the global market for shale gas – which is extracted using the controversial practice of fracking – accounting for 74 per cent of worldwide production.

The EU would comprise just 3 per cent, with the UK likely to be contributing only a small fraction of that, BP said.

Only the United States and Canada have the necessary combination of good infrastructure, support services, liquid capital markets, favourable regulations and private (as opposed to government) ownership of mineral rights "to support rapid production growth", the report concluded.

Furthermore, the rise in EU shale-gas production will not offset the rapid decline of conventional gas production, forcing the bloc to increase gas imports by 48 per cent by 2030.

BP said the trend would be broadly replicated in the UK, putting a further question mark over the Chancellor George Osborne's "dash-for-gas" energy policy, which places gas at the centre of British power production and aims to harness the country's shale-gas reserves, which are potentially huge but yet to be proven.