Depletion Protocol

(aka Oil Depletion Protocol; Rimini Protocol; Uppsala Protocol)

A proposal, drawn up by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, designed to ensure that the decline in production of oil, which is now beginning, is maintained at a steady rate, rather than being subject to the fluctuations in price and availability which can otherwise be expected.

Under the Protocol, oil-producing countries would commit themselves to reducing their production at a rate which relates to the amount of oil they have left. This ‘depletion rate’ is calculated as the amount currently being extracted each year, divided by the amount yet-to-extract (i.e., the total quantity remaining, including best estimates of the oil yet to be found). For example, if a country currently produces 300 million barrels a year, and it has ten billion barrels remaining of its entire endowment, then its depletion rate is three percent. Signing up to the Protocol would accordingly commit this country to producing three percent of its remaining total endowment each year from now on. Since this remaining endowment is itself diminishing as it is extracted, the actual quantity produced declines in a regular and predictable way, year by year. Meanwhile, the consuming countries would commit themselves to reducing their consumption at a depletion rate calculated for the world as a whole (less any oil they can provide for themselves).D29

The Protocol does not contain any provision for less-developed countries that currently consume less oil to increase their consumption, on the grounds that those countries actually have the advantage, which they should not endanger, of not depending for their well-being on a fuel which will in due course become almost unobtainable. Nor does it seek to alter the distribution of world energy demand in the name of equality or fairness; it just enables a rapid but orderly descent from where we are now.

It is not a comprehensive response. It does not include gas and coal; it could be extended to include them, but estimating their reserves is harder and less reliable than is the case for oil. And if it were extended, that could imply an intention to use up all remaining reserves, which would be defensible if the only objective were to address fossil fuel depletion, but not in the context of climate change. And the strict formula would need to be interpreted with flexibility from time to time, to allow for events such as production problems due to hurricane damage or interruptions in supply caused by local wars.

But an effective instrument would be an advance on where we are now, even if it did deal only with oil. The Depletion Protocol is the application of manners to the depletion of a scarce and essential resource. It defines a global framework which would be implemented at the national level by TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas). There is flexibility in its design: as Richard Heinberg writes, “under an Oil Depletion Protocol, nations would agree to reduce their oil production and oil imports according to a consistent, sensible formula.”D30 “Sensible” means recognising that the energy peak and climate change are two parts of the same problem, and that there have to be ways of agreeing on a response, since the alternatives are unattractive.


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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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