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Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg has urged European politicians to focus on a climate crisis instead of “bickering”, as children walked out of classes around the world to back her demands for urgent action to curb carbon emissions.

Ms Thunberg, 16, said the threat of societal breakdown posed by runaway climate change should overshadow every other campaign issue in the European Union’s parliamentary elections this week.

“If the EU were to decide to seriously fight the climate crisis, it would mean a decisive global change.

“And the EU election should reasonably only be about this, but it isn’t,” Ms Thunberg told thousands gathered in Kungstradgarden square in Stockholm’s banking district, according to Reuters Newsagency.

By evening, more than 1.8 million people in 2350 cities across 125 countries had joined the strike, according to a tally on the Facebook page of the Fridays for Future movement, a network of young climate protesters.

Reuters reports an estimated 1.5 million young people took part in a previous global school strike on March 15.

In the United States city of New York, several hundred children and teenagers marched from Columbus Circle to Times Square, shouting their support for a “Green New Deal” proposed in Congress that calls among other things for 100 per cent of US power demand to be met though renewable energy sources within 10 years.

The protesters held a “die-in” in Times Square, lying on the ground for 11 minutes to represent the 11 years scientists have said it may take for earth’s temperature to rise to an irreversible tipping point if carbon emissions are not substantially cut.

Reuters reports climate change has moved up the political agenda this year, especially among young, first-time voters who fear that they will bear the brunt of global warming, spurring a wave of support for Green candidates.

However, much of the debate during European campaigning has focused on issues such as immigration and austerity.

The single most effective weapon in the fight against climate change, imposing taxes on those who emit greenhouse gases, can be politically fraught, however.

France was forced to delay a plan to raise taxes on diesel oil last December in response to weeks of sometimes-violent protests.

Ms Thunberg has emerged as a leading figure in the movement since she first protested in favour of climate action alone in August outside the Swedish parliament.

Reuters reports she has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, featured on the cover of Time magazine and travelled Europe by train to lambaste senior figures in government and industry.

Children, teenagers and adults who had felt powerless in the face of the climate crisis have rallied behind Fridays for Future in the hope of forcing politicians and business leaders to heed scientists’ warnings.

“We are putting pressure on the governments and we want them to act fast and now,” said David Wicker, 14, who joined some 7500 young protesters in Brussels.

Young people who took time off school to protest on Friday urged adults to heed calls by climate activists for a global general strike on September 20.

In Paris, Celia Benmessaoud, 15, held up a sign saying “There’s Is No Planet B,” and said she hoped the school strike would change the world, echoing participants around the world, from India, Turkey and Gambia to countries across Europe.

Carbon emissions hit a record high last year, despite a warning from the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October that output of the gases would have to be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilise the climate.

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South Africa’s long-delayed carbon tax has been enshrined in law, the country’s treasury said, as one of the continent’s worst polluters transitions to lower emissions in its efforts to meet agreements on global climate change.

The carbon tax was first mooted in 2010 but has been postponed at least three times after mining companies, steelmakers and state-owned power utility Eskom said it would erode profit and push up electricity prices.

Reuters Newsagency reports the first phase of the tax is from June 1 to December 2022, with a tax rate of US$8.34 a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Allowable tax breaks will reduce the effective rate to between US$0.41 and US$3.32 a tonne of CO2, National Treasury said in a statement after the tax was signed in to law by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“A review of the impact of the tax will be conducted before the second phase and will take into account the progress made to reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in line with our National Determined Contribution,” the treasury said.

Reuters reports the second phase will run from 2023 to 2030.

Big energy users including Sibanye-Stillwater and ArcelorMittal’s South African operation had previously opposed plans to enact carbon tax laws, saying the levies are unaffordable and should be scrapped or delayed.

Local and overseas climate activists, however, believe the tax response falls short of emissions targets the country signed up for in the 2015 United Nations sponsored Paris Agreement.

The tax is considered “highly insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker group.

The treasury said it does not expect the tax to push up electricity prices.

Ailing state power company Eskom, which has implemented nationwide blackouts this year, was granted a near 10 per cent tariff increase for 2019 by the regulator but has complained that the increase will not solve its deep cash crunch.

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A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) reveals more coal power stations around the world came offline last year than were approved for perhaps first time since industrial revolution.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, coal-fired energy has become the single biggest driver of man-made climate change and its use across the world is still increasing.

While dependence on coal remains high, with coal-fired power plants currently fuelling around 38 per cent of global electricity, the new IEA report indicates the demise of coal is already well underway.

The IEA’s new world investment report released this week, reveals the companies funding coal-fired power stations appear to be making significant recalculations about the long-term viability of these plants.

This is shown by a collapse in Final Investment Decisions (FIDs) for coal plants, which have tumbled by 75 per cent in three years.

The report said a total of 236 gigawatts (GW) of coal plants were under construction worldwide.

In 2015, FIDs signed off 88GW for construction, but this fell to 22GW in 2018.

Furthermore, the rate at which coal power plants are being decommissioned has risen to the extent that despite new power plants coming online, there was a net reduction in coal power being used globally over 2018.

Around 30GW of generators were retired last year, and it is estimated this could be the first time there has been a reduction in coal-fired power capacity across the world since the industrial revolution.

When the FIDs fall to zero, it will only be a matter of time until coal’s reign is over.

Last year, with FID’s going down, the IEA noted: “It appears that banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, utilities and other operators in advanced economies are exiting the coal business.”

This means that even without policy necessarily directing them, the financial concerns of investors over the future of the fossil fuel business are slowly ensuring money is being allocated to different areas.

Most of the current expansion in coal is in Asia.

In the West, the move away from coal has gathered pace, with Europe’s overall use of coal down a quarter, while in the United States it has fallen by 40 per cent over the last 10 years.

The IEA report outlined two scenarios for measuring energy progress.

The first is its Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS). In this scenario, energy production meets the criteria set out under the United Nations sponsored Paris Agreement targets and air pollution around the world is slashed.

The second is the less ambitious New Policies Scenario (NPS), which would see less action taken to tackle fossil fuels and less investment in renewable energy, resulting in warming reaching around 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA executive director said: “Energy investments now face unprecedented uncertainties, with shifts in markets, policies and technologies.

“But the bottom line is that the world is not investing enough in traditional elements of supply to maintain today’s consumption patterns, nor is it investing enough in cleaner technologies to change course.

Whichever way you look, we are storing up risks for the future.

“Current investment trends show the need for bolder decisions required to make the energy system more sustainable.

“Government leadership is critical to reduce risks for investors in the emerging sectors that urgently need more capital to get the world on the right track,” Dr Birol added.

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Fossil fuel major BHP is looking to add more oil, copper and nickel resources to its portfolio, while souring on thermal coal because it thinks the fossil fuel will be phased out, “potentially sooner than expected”.

At the same time BHP has come to the conclusion that electric vehicles will arrive more quickly than previously imagined and batteries really are the re-generators of the future, but that it will stick with nickel rather join the lithium rush.

BHP’s chief financial officer, Peter Beaven, has told investors and analysts in a strategy briefing that “the world will be a very different place in 10 to 20 years’ time” and the global miner must be thoughtful about the risks and opportunities.

The Guardian Online reports Mr Beaven said the miner believed that electrification of transport and the decarbonisation of stationary power were two strategic themes going forward.

As such, BHP believes that copper and nickel, used in electric vehicles, are sound investments, a turnaround from its stance of a few years ago when it was trying to sell off its Nickel West project in Western Australia.

However, even with the trend towards electric vehicles, BHP forecasts that the decline in existing oil fields ensures that new capacity will be required.

“It is likely that attractive rent will continue to be available for well-placed assets,” Mr Beaven said.

BHP is looking to develop oil projects in the United States, the Gulf of Mexico and Canada, Mr Beaven said.

It is also interested in finding another nickel resource in WA and expanding its existing copper projects, in South Australia, Arizona and Ecuador.

The conclusions and many more were revealed at the shareholder briefing and are the product of the sort of big thinking that sees Australia’s global resources major follow an investment rule book made orthodoxy by Royal Dutch Shell.

However, BHP has “no appetite for growth in energy coal regardless of asset attractiveness”, the company said in a briefing slide.

BHP has two high-quality thermal coalmines that generate high margins, the Mt Arthur Coal mine in New South Wales and the Cerrejón mine in Colombia, in which BHP holds a one-third stake, but Mr Beaven suggested they could be sold.

“Our focus will be on maximising value to shareholders, whether we are long-term owners or not,” he said.

BHP forecasts that metallurgical coal, used in steelmaking and mined by BHP in central Queensland, will still offer the company attractive returns, as will its iron ore operations.

However, there was a possibility that gas would be leapfrogged by emerging markets as they opt for renewable energy, Mr Beaven said.

In other resources, the abundant supply of lithium means BHP is not interested in the asset, and the miner foresees that cobalt will lose share to nickel.

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An ebb in support for mainstream parties is raising hopes among Europe’s Greens that they could act as kingmakers in the next European Parliament, with growing concerns over climate change likely to hand them their strongest showing yet.

With the centre-left and centre-right bloc set to lose their joint majority in elections across the European Union this week, the Greens hope to increase their influence as parties jostle to create new alliances in the next EU legislature.

Reuters Newsagency reports there will be limits to what they can do, but the Greens want to push for faster cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as for influence in the areas of trade, tax and the rule of law in any negotiations to form a bloc to counter gains on the eurosceptic far-right.

“They can do their numbers,” Bas Eickhout, a Green politician from the Netherlands and one of the group’s two lead candidates, said of the conservative and socialists predicted to lose seats.

“We are not going to make the same mistake as other parties to say: ‘Okay, we team up with you and we make some minor changes at the fringes,’” Mr Eickhout told Reuters.

The socialist group aims to include Greens and Liberals in a broad centre-left coalition, their leader in the parliament, Udo Bullmann, told Reuters.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in an interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, also suggested that there could be a role for the Greens in such a “progressive coalition”.

Officials in the European People’s Party, the biggest political family in the chamber, have also signalled readiness to coordinate policy with the Greens.

Despite their expected gains, the Greens are projected to remain one of the smallest political groups, with 57 seats in the 751-seat legislature, up from 52 at present, limiting their influence over big decisions.

“They could have leverage and, if they play it smartly, they could get something out of that, but let’s not overstate it,” said Janis Emmanouilidis, a political analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre.

As negotiators urge countries worldwide to boost commitments under the 2015 United Nations sponsored Paris Agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the EU’s stance as one of the key brokers of the deal will be crucial in determining how much of a contribution it can make towards averting the most catastrophic climate change scenarios.

Winning seats in the European Parliament, one of the bloc’s three political bodies, offers politicians a say on decisions over EU rules in areas such as car pollution standards, financing for pipeline projects and targets on renewable energy and energy-saving.

Nevertheless, interests in the energy, farming, transport and other sectors mean Greens will have to fight to translate climate activism into concrete policy changes.

Support for Green parties has surged in what was once the continent’s industrial heartland, where young people have taken to the streets to demand politicians break with a legacy of dependence on coal, oil and gas.

Students inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg are planning to a join a school strike in dozens of countries on Friday, while environmental activists Extinction Rebellion shut down parts of London last month, forcing the British parliament to declare a symbolic ‘climate emergency’.

Although a groundswell of concern has prompted many parties to step up their green rhetoric on the campaign trail, the pan-European alliance of more than 30 national parties who field politcians to the Green group in the European Parliament hopes to reap the biggest rewards.

“It’s moved beyond the green niche. People are ready for really bold action,” Molly Scott Cato, a British Green politician, said at a rally of about 100 students at the University of Bristol in southwest England.

The last European Parliament pushed for higher goals on a raft of new regulations and backed a call for the EU to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

For many young first-time voters, that goal is paramount.

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Fossil fuel major BP’s shareholders have overwhelmingly approved a climate change resolution backed by investors and the company, which calls for it to meet the 2015 United Nations sponsored Paris Agreement on climate change.

The resolution, co-filed by shareholder group Climate Action 100+, won the support of 99.14 per cent of the votes.

Reuters Newsagency reports a second resolution, filed by activist group Follow This which BP’s board urged shareholders to vote against, received 8.35 per cent of the votes.

Activists had disrupted BP’s annual shareholder meeting shouting “this is a crime scene” in the latest climate protest against the oil and gas group, while rival Royal Dutch Shell got some rare praise from investors on its emissions policies.

Both fossil fuel giants have been working with shareholders in recent years to try to define a path toward meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

United States rivals ExxonMobil and Chevron are also under pressure from investors, but have so far not committed to any targets.

Two women protesters inside BP’s annual general meeting (AGM) in Aberdeen, Scotland, were carried out by security staff, while others turned on an alarm during BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley’s speech as activists complained the UK-based group was not doing enough to battle global warming.

The action came a day after Greenpeace protesters blockaded the entrance to BP’s London headquarters, demanding it end all new oil and gas exploration.

BP agreed in February with a group of shareholders known as Climate Action 100+ on the resolution to increase transparency around carbon emissions, set targets to reduce emissions from its operations and link them to executive pay.

That resolution won overwhelming shareholder support at the AGM.

However, after BP’s overall carbon emissions rose in 2018 to their highest in six years, shareholders also pushed it to do more and follow Shell by imposing stricter emissions limits.

Outside the AGM, several dozen people held placards reading “BP climate criminals” and “climate emergency.”

Around 20 environmental activists also gathered outside Shell’s AGM in The Hague.

BP Chairman Helge Lund said the company would transition toward cleaner energy, while remaining an attractive investment proposition.

Meanwhile, Shell was commended by some of its shareholders for setting sector-leading climate policies last year.

They include reducing so-called Scope 3 emissions from fuels sold to customers around the world in addition to emissions from the company’s own operations.

Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement for the Church of England Pensions Board who has represented shareholders in climate talks with Shell, said the group’s strategy was an example to other energy companies.

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China’s top planning agency has said the country approved its first batch of subsidy-free wind and solar projects with a combined capacity of 20.76 gigawatts (GW).

That follows China’s vow in January to launch a series of unsubsidised renewable power projects this year to tackle a payment backlog amid a decline in construction costs in the sector.

Reuters Newsagency reports the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) also urged grid companies to sign long-term power purchase contracts with operators of the unsubsidised renewable projects.

A total of 56 wind power projects, 168 solar power projects and 26 pilot distributed renewable projects in 16 cities and regions in China were approved by the NDRC.

By April, China had installed wind power capacity of 280GW and solar capacity 130GW, official data showed.

Meanwhile, China has publicly accused dozens of firms, including some of its biggest state enterprises, of exceeding pollution limits and breaching monitoring standards, as concerns rise that the slowing economy is undermining a five-year war on pollution.

In lists published by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment over the past week, subsidiaries of state giants such as China Baowu Steel Group and the Aluminum Corporation of China were cited and fined for breaching emissions standards among other violations.

China has been stepping up its supervision capabilities and has plugged thousands of factories into a real-time emissions monitoring system, but enforcement remains one of its biggest challenges.

The ministry has continued to warn that China’s slowing economy had given some regions an excuse to “loosen their grip” on environmental protection.

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The latest round of talks by the International Martime Organisation (IMO), held in London, have seen tightened energy efficiency targets and a commitment to further discuss proposed speed reduction rules as the key outcomes.

However, environmental campaigners were quick to argue the results showed a “total lack of ambition” on the part of the shipping industry, which currently emits three per cent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions but risks seeing its share expand to 10 per cent by 2050 unless efforts to decarbonise accelerate.

With some members and leading shipping operators calling for bolder climate policies and others continuing to push back against proposals that they fear would impose new costs on their national shipping industries, the IMO agreed to tighten energy efficiency targets for new vessels across seven ship types.

The British environmental news website BusinessGreen reports the accelerated targets for containers, general cargo ships, hybrid diesel-electric cruise ships, and LPG and LNG carriers cover about 30 per cent of ships and about 40 per cent of CO2 emitted from ships subject to energy efficiency regulations.

The measures could reduce CO2 emissions by 750 million tonnes of CO2 cumulatively from 2022 to 2050, equivalent to about two per cent of all emissions from the industry over that time period, according to an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

The IMO also committed to considering additional requirements for new ships after 2025 and looking at new efficiency requirements for in-use vehicles at the next meeting, fueling hopes standards could be strengthened as investment in cleaner shipping technologies steps up.

“IMO’s move shows that further efficiency improvements are still possible for fossil fueled ships,” said Bryan Comer, senior researcher in the ICCT’s marine program.

“Future standards should promote new technologies like wind assist and eventually zero emission fuels like hydrogen and electricity.”

BusinessGreen reports a decision on whether to implement speed reduction targets was kicked down the road, and will now be taken up at the IMO’s next GHG working group in November.

The deferral of any decision on speed limits came despite a joint letter signed by over 100 shipping CEOs ahead of the MEPC74 talks calling for global speed limits at sea, which is widely seen as the most effective short-term measure for curbing the industry’s emissions.

“We’ve seen over 100 individual shipping companies united with NGOs in calling for speed reduction, overruling the policy stance of the industry associations,” said Faig Abbasov, shipping policy manager at Transport and Environment.

“The shipping industry associations no longer represent the best interests of shipping companies.”

Countries who blocked further action reportedly included Saudi Arabia, the United States, Brazil, and Cook Islands, with opposition to the speed reduction proposals also understood to have come from Chile and Peru.

BusinessGreen reports the outcome from the meeting should provide a boost to investment in fuel efficiency measures across the sector, but it will also provide further ammunition for those shipping operators and environmental campaigners who accuse the international body of failing to deliver sufficiently ambitious climate policies.

Aviation and shipping are the only two industries to operate outside the framework of national climate action plans established by the United Nations sponsored Paris Agreement, with the IMO and its sister body the International  Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) instead tasked with delivering new policies to curb emissions from the carbon intensive sectors.

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According to new research just published sea levels could rise nearly twice as much as previously predicted by the end of this century, if carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated, an outcome that could devastate coastal communities around the globe.

The world’s coastal cities have been warned to prepare for the possibility of a sea level rise exceeding two metres by the end of the century, with “profound consequences for humanity.”

A new assessment found runaway carbon emissions and melting ice sheets could result in such a worst case scenario, potentially double the upper limit outlined by the United Nations climate science panel’s last major report.

The startling findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), paint a far grimmer picture than current consensus predictions, which have suggested that seas could rise by just under a meter at most by the year 2100.

Such big sea level rises so soon would lead to nightmarish impacts, said Professor Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol.

“If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable.”

Around 1.79 million square kilometres of land could be lost and up to 187 million people displaced.

“Many small island states, particularly those in the Pacific, will effectively be pretty much inhabitable. We are talking about an existential threat to nation states,” said Professor Bamber.

His team came to their conclusions after taking evidence from 22 leading researchers on how the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets might respond to future climate change.

Aggregating the responses revealed a one in twenty chance that seas could rise by more than two metres by 2100 if unchecked carbon emissions lead to average global warming of five degrees Celsius, about 2.0°C more than the temperature rises current government pledges would lead to.

“It’s unlikely but it’s plausible. We are talking about a five per cent probability,” said Professor Bamber, of how the ice would react to such extreme warming.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said in 2013 that the worst case for sea level rise was 98 centimetres by 2100, plus potentially a few tenths of a metre extra from Antarctica if it began collapsing this century.

Professor Bamber said the IPCC was missing possible serious impacts by not looking at plausible but low probability increases.

One factor influencing assessments is that relatively new satellite measurements are showing ice mass loss happening faster than models expected.

Another key issue is the idea that ice cliffs in Antarctica could collapse under their own weight after buttressing ice sheets supporting them are melted by climate change.

The risk of a disastrous two-metre sea level rise could still be avoided if emissions were cut quickly enough, said Professor Bamber.

“We can make some choices but we have to make them very soon.”

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In a major step a new reports suggests global sales of petrol and diesel cars may have already passed their peak, and in their place electric vehicles (EVs) will soon start dominating car, bus and van markets.

If correct that would pave the way for zero emission technologies to make similarly significant in-roads into the market for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

Those are the surprising conclusions of BloombergNEF’s (BNEF) latest annual Electric Vehicle Market Outlook, which for the first time incorporates not only data on cars and buses, but more detailed work on the commercial market for vans, medium-sized trucks and HGVs.

The report, just published, expects EVs to make up 57 per cent of global sales by 2040, a slight increase on its 55 per cent forecast last year.

Meanwhile, electric buses are set to secure an overwhelming 81 per cent of bus sales worldwide by the same date.

BNEF’s latest forecasts, while slightly more stronger, are not hugely different from last year’s, and some commentators have argued exponential increases in demand could see EVs dominate key markets far earlier than 2040.

However, the new projections nevertheless demonstrate growing confidence that the EV market is poised for rapid and sustained growth.

BNEF argued that growing consumer acceptance and downward pressure on technology costs, could see electric car sales rise from two million worldwide in 2018 to 28 million in 2030 and 56 million by 2040.

In contrast, fossil fuel car sales would fall to 42 million by 2040, from around 85 million last year.

It is also worth noting these global figures masks potentially vast regional variation in EV uptake, particularly given there is growing pressure on governments such as the United Kingdom’s to ban fossil fuel car sales altogether far earlier than 2040 in order to reach climate targets and make the most of new market opportunities.

BNEF forecasts that while China will continue to dominate global EV sales with 48 per cent of the market in 2025, Europe is on course to make significant gains, overtaking the United States as the number two EV market globally during the next decade.

Electrification elsewhere, meanwhile, will be much slower, leading to a much more “fragmented” global vehicle market, it states.

BNEF also has a notably strong outlook for decarbonising larger commercial vehicles, which are widely seen as far more of a challenge to electrify.

A number of companies are rushing to develop zero emission trucks, but they are yet to match the success of the electric bus market where orders are growing rapidly.

BNEF’s projections show electric models taking 56 per cent of light commercial vehicle sales, which are, broadly speaking, vans, in Europe, the US and China within the next two decades, plus 31 per cent of the market for medium commercial vehicles, or smaller trucks.

Even for heavy-duty trucks, or HGVs, the hardest segment for electric drive trains to crack due to the size and weight of such vehicles, electric alternatives could make up 19 per cent of sales globally in 2040, it estimates.

These EV sales will largely for be shorter-distances applications, BNEF argues, but fossil fuel trucks will also face major competition from other lower carbon alternatives such as natural gas and hydrogen vehicles in the coming years.

Overall, it suggests the impending electric revolution may well have the potential to spread into even diesel-dominated heavy goods segments previously seen as off-limits for green transport, and that fossil fuel engines could become a dying breed in the not-too-distant-future given the raft of low carbon alternatives now being developed.

Indeed, in one of the biggest shifts from its forecasts last year, BNEF estimates EVs could lead to a cut in road fuel demand by 13.7 barrels of oil per day in 2040, which is almost double the 7.3 million figure it had down last year.

“Our conclusions are stark for fossil fuel use in road transport,” said Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport for BNEF.

“Electrification will still take time because the global fleet changes over slowly but, once it gets rolling in the 2020s, it starts to spread to many other areas of road transport.

“We see a real possibility that global sales of conventional passenger cars have already passed their peak,” he added.

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