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Too soon to ditch fossil fuels: Shell vice president

Shell Australia Vice President Commercial, Cecile Wake, believes any premature demise of fossil fuels could threaten to reduce the important role it can play in helping build communities and raising quality of life in poverty stricken regions around the world.

Speaking at the IQ2 Debate hosted last month by not for profit think tank The Ethics Centre, Wake said it was too soon to complete a transition from fossil fuels while there were a billion people on the planet who did not have electricity.

Wake said technology had made the availability of electricity, gas and petrol supplies in developed economies widespread, however, for many in the third world there was no such luxury from which to consider a switch to renewables.

“Those who have to spend hours carting water from wells. Those who don’t have refrigeration, who need to find food every day and because they don’t have lights or internet, it limits their children’s education,” said Wake.

“I put it to those opposite that society has a moral obligation to support all those striving to fulfil their potential and give their children opportunities for a better life.”

The world’s population forecast to grow to 10 billion people by 2050. According to the New Policies Scenario released by the International Energy Agency demand for energy could rise by 30 per cent as early as 2040.

Wake said it was the equivalent of adding another China and India to the global demand of today.

“Together we need to lift people out of energy poverty and we need to address climate change,” she said.

“Quite simply, we need more energy and we need cleaner energy.”

Renewables, even if harnessed from a sole power source to fuel the world would only meet about 20 per cent of the energy demands according to Wake.

“The production of glass, steel, cement, plastic and chemicals is, for now, only possible using traditional hydrocarbon fuels because of the extremely high temperatures, chemical reactions or dense energy storage needed,” said Wake.

“Aviation, heavy freight, and shipping rely on energy dense liquid fuels. Today, without fossil fuels, none of us could fly from Sydney to Melbourne, let alone overseas.

Society will continue to rely on fossil fuels for decades to come — even as we embrace technological innovations in renewable sources of energy.”

She said Shell saw commercial opportunities in actively investing in electric vehicles and infrastructure such as wind, solar, hydrogen and second-generation biofuels.

“We believe that hydrogen could play a big role in making the most of wind and solar energies,” said Wake.

“Electric cars should become more and more prevalent, especially in cities with higher population density.”

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