In the ongoing battle against climate change, the critical link between fossil fuels and the planet's environmental health is undeniable. When burned, fossil fuels release copious amounts of carbon dioxide—a potent greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere, contributing significantly to global warming. As of February 2022, the average global temperature has already risen by 1°C, with dire consequences looming if we breach the 1.5°C mark. Such a breach could lead to more sea-level rise, increasingly extreme weather events, biodiversity loss, species extinction, food scarcity, deteriorating health, and heightened poverty for millions worldwide.
But what exactly are fossil fuels? They result from millions of years of decomposition of carbon-based organisms, forming carbon-rich deposits that we extract and burn for energy. These non-renewable resources currently supply approximately 80% of the world's energy needs. Fossil fuels are not limited to energy generation alone; they are also integral in the production of plastics, steel, and a wide array of consumer goods. There are three primary types of fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas.
The impact of fossil fuels on climate change and our planet is substantial. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified emissions from fossil fuels as the dominant driver of global warming. In 2018, a staggering 89% of global CO2 emissions originated from fossil fuels and industrial activities.
Among these, coal stands out as the dirtiest fossil fuel, responsible for over 0.3°C of the 1°C increase in global average temperatures—an alarming statistic that makes coal the largest single source of global temperature rise. Oil, another major player, releases a substantial amount of carbon when burned, accounting for approximately one-third of the world's total carbon emissions. Furthermore, recent oil spills have dealt devastating blows to our oceans' ecosystems. Natural gas, often touted as a cleaner energy alternative, is still a fossil fuel and contributes to one-fifth of the world's total carbon emissions.
Can we afford to keep burning fossil fuels? The IPCC has issued a stark warning that fossil fuel emissions must be cut in half within the next 11 years if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. While the Paris Agreement of 2015 saw governments pledging to reduce carbon emissions, a recent report by the UN Environment Programme reveals that we are on track to produce more than double the amount of coal, oil, and gas by 2030 than can be burned while staying within the 1.5°C limit. Clearly, more decisive action is required.
What about the role of fossil fuel companies in shaping the planet's future? Despite the urgent need for a transition to renewable energy and greater efficiency, fossil fuel companies continue to be major polluters, manufacturing, and marketing fossil fuel products. In 2019, for instance, BP launched a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign emphasizing its commitment to low-carbon energy and cleaner natural gas. However, the reality remains that more than 96% of BP's annual expenditures are still allocated to oil and gas. This issue is not exclusive to BP; it plagues the entire industry.
In response, in December 2019, a complaint was lodged with the UK National Contact Point regarding BP's advertising practices. Additionally, a campaign was initiated to call for a ban on fossil fuel advertising unless it carried a health-warning label akin to tobacco products. The public, it was argued, deserves the unvarnished truth about fossil fuels.
The need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy storage solutions is critical. Energy Vault's founders aimed to create an energy storage solution that could be quickly deployed at scale. They based their approach on established technology inspired by Pumped Hydro Electric storage, which makes up over 90% of global energy storage. Additionally, they leveraged innovations in material science and system design to disrupt the economics of renewable energy delivery. The goal was to make renewable energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels for the first time.