The dominance of the “black industry” continues to be one of the greatest barriers when it comes to the clean energy transition.

In this issue we focus primarily on the status, possibilities and challenges linked to clean energy and the SDG7.

When looking at the clean energy transformation, there is another and very important side of the coin to take into consideration – and that is the development of fossil fuels. For decades, coal, oil and gas have played a dominant role in global energy systems and they continue to do so. Looking at the global consumption of these resources, the curve is still only going one way – and alarmingly that is up. See figure 1.

Unfortunately, there is no sign from the latest energy developments that we are anywhere near breaking this upward curve – so, despite a wide range of clean energy solutions being introduced in the last few years, we are still failing to replace our existing energy sources with sustainable solutions. Instead, we are merely closing the gap to meet rising global energy demand.

Figure 1. Fossil fuels still dominates. Global fossil fuel consumption, by fossil fuel source, TWH. Source: Fossil Fuels, Our World in Data, 2017.

One example of this is electrified vehicles (EVs). The BP annual outlook from 2018 predicts that the number of EVs is likely to reach 300m by 2040, going up from 3m today. Still this would only be about 15% of the total car fleet.

The main barrier when it comes to bringing down the use fossil fuels, is the strong economic and political interest embedded within the “black” energy industries. Looking at the oil, gas and coal sectors we are up against well-established, labor-intensive, and politically influential industries. There are numerous actors who have great interests invested in keeping these sectors alive and they are not giving up without a fight.

A 2017 report titled The Great Gas Lock-in shows that gas companies spent more than $120 million in 2016 lobbying to ensure Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels. The report concludes that the EU as a result of this “has bought the industry spin that gas is a ‘clean’ fuel to partner renewables”.

There is nothing to indicate that any innovations in sustainable energy is going to threaten the power of the fossil fuels industry anytime soon. Looking at the coal industry as one example, President Trump has repeatedly promised to support the industry, which has been financially failing in recent years. Moreover, according to The New York Times five of the biggest US banks – JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup – issued about $1.5 billion in new coal-related loans last year – despite pledging to cut back on lending to the coal industry only three years ago.

And despite a drop the last two years, the total fossil-fuel consumption subsidies remains much higher than government support to renewable energy. Subsidies for renewables in power generation amounted to $140 billion in 2016. The same year the subsidies for fossil fuel industry reached $260 billion.

So, three years after the signing of the Paris agreement, we have failed to witness any significant movements towards breaking the traditional energy curve, nor does it seem like this will change anytime soon.