The International Energy Agency has a list of 10 actions to cut fossil fuel use amid high demand and prices, and one of them is especially familiar to anyone who has lived through the past two years: working from home.
Released Friday, the plan calls for immediate actions in the workplace and on the road by advanced economies, which together could cut oil demand by 2.7 million barrels per day in the next four months. That more than makes up for the potential shortfall of 2.5 million barrels per day resulting from countries like the U.S. and Canada banning the import of Russian oil in the face of its invasion of Ukraine.
Working from home up to three days per week when possible and avoiding business travel are among the plan’s recommendations. Given that roughly a third of jobs in advanced economies can be done from home, as evidenced by the pandemic period, the IEA finds that skipping the commute by car three days a week can result in saving roughly 500,000 barrels per day in the short term. Workers collectively skipping a day a week in the office can still save 170,000 barrels of oil per day.
Despite the fact that business travel is beginning to tick up as vaccine rates increase and COVID-19 cases decline, the IEA finds avoiding it when alternatives exist is another way to reduce oil use. The group points out that “the journeys of passengers in premium classes consume three times more oil than those in economy class” due to space requirements. A meaningful reduction in business travel of two of every five business flights is possible in the short term (and here, the agency points again to the pandemic), and would cut oil use by roughly 260,000 barrels per day.
The agency’s other recommendations mainly address the transportation sector, including some fairly simple fixes, such as reducing speed limits on highways by at least 10 kilometers per hour and encouraging car-free Sundays. The list also includes hastening the adoption of electric and more efficient vehicles, which could prove a bigger challenge. (The IEA itself acknowledges that supply chain bottlenecks for semiconductors and other necessities make getting them to consumers a fraught proposition.)
While the plan doesn’t prioritize climate action on the surface, the organization — which was founded to help coordinate an international response to the 1970s oil crisis — explicitly says “reducing oil use must not remain a temporary measure.” Indeed, doing so is required to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
“Governments have all the necessary tools at their disposal to put oil demand into decline in the coming years, which would support efforts to both strengthen energy security and achieve vital climate goals,” the IEA says.
The report also doesn’t explicitly say the ban against Russian oil and gas is an opportunity to kick fossil fuels in an effort to protect the climate. But it’s not hard to read that message between the lines.
It’s a narrative that harkens back to the agency’s June 2020 report, which explicitly said that the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic crisis was a “unique opportunity” to “put global greenhouse gas emissions into structural decline.” While that pitch, which advocated for countries to rebuild their economies in a more sustainable fashion, was largely ignored, maybe — just maybe! — the IEA will have more success this time around.