The power of Two in understanding the future

Chris Birdsall

Director, Energy & Economics

Viewpoints Aug. 28, 2023

There’s a small number everyone should know: Two. Yes, two.

Turns out it’s a much bigger number than at first blush. “Two” helps explain the profound changes our world is likely to see over the next several decades. And make no mistake, the world is going to look very different by the time the calendar flips to the year 2050.

I say this by way of introduction for ExxonMobil’s most recent Global Outlook, which we published today. It’s our company’s most up-to-date view of energy demand and supply through 2050.

A team of in-house analysts, engineers, and economists put together the Global Outlook. They looked at growth trends, technology developments, and government policies to project how global markets are likely to evolve over time.

ExxonMobil Global Outlook

Learn about our latest view of energy demand and supply through 2050. 

 

Take the entire global economy – and add another one

So back to the importance of the number two.

“Two” represents each of the foundational insights of our Global Outlook – one having to do with the world’s population, and the other with the growth of the global economy:

  • By 2050, we project global population will rise by 2 billion – a 25% increase – up to 10 billion people.
  • At the same time, we project the global economy will be more than 2X larger than it is today.

What unites these insights is simple: energy. As our Executive Summary notes, “Energy use and economic development are inseparable. Where there is energy poverty, there is poverty. And where energy availability rises, living standards rise as well.”

The extraordinary developments our Outlook projects over the next several decades demonstrate the power of “two” – a far more prosperous world for a far larger number of people than today.

The many ways the future will differ from today.

In truth, of course, the Outlook offers far more than just two insights about how we see the next several decades unfolding.

Here are few more projections:

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15% more energy

The world’s overall energy demand will increase by 15% between now and 2050, a surprisingly low figure given the anticipated doubling of the global economy.

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5X greater use of wind and solar

Wind and solar use will soar by 2050, quintupling to 11% of the global energy mix by mid-century.


The Outlook also notes that while the 25% expected drop in CO2 emissions is substantial, much more will be needed to reach society’s emission-reduction goals. This means the world needs to dramatically scale up lower-emission solutions like carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and biofuels.

These critical technologies will require government policy support, significant advances in technology, and ultimately the development of a “carbon economy” where society pays for carbon reductions.

We don’t have a crystal ball at ExxonMobil. But, as a company that has been meeting the evolving needs of society for the past century and a half, we do have a good sense of where the world could be headed.

The people behind the numbers

A final thought: Despite the charts, the graphs, and the reams of data, the Global Outlook isn’t an academic exercise.

In the end, it’s not about numbers. It’s about people.

That’s what the data represent: real people, living real lives, each with their own hopes and aspirations for a better future.

The most dramatic implications of the doubling of global GDP by 2050 are reserved for those who live in so-called developing nations, non-OECD countries such as India, China, Ethiopia, Niger, and many others in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The story of the next few decades will be their story

Virtually all of the expected growth in global economic output will take place in their home nations, where an astounding number of people are expected to rise from poverty into the global middle class.

In the coming weeks, we plan to highlight several such stories here on exxonmobil.com – profiles of some of our employees who have grabbed hold and climbed the rungs of the economic ladder thanks in large measure to modern, reliable, affordable energy.

I hope you’ll join us as we explore their journeys.

Chris Birdsall is director of economics and energy for Corporate Strategic Planning at ExxonMobil.

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The “Global Outlook” portion of the website is an interactive version of the Company’s 2023 Global Outlook. Some of the hyperlinks embedded in this section link to other parts of the Outlook, and some take the reader to other articles and information on the Company’s website.

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The energy transition: signposts and scenarios

The energy transition: signposts and scenarios

Any projection or scenario of future energy demand and supply will reflect a given pace of the energy transition. In our long-term planning, we pay close attention to key signposts that indicate a potential shift in the speed and direction of the transition.

Global Outlook Report Jan. 8, 2024

Energy supply

Energy supply

Energy – in all its forms – enables growth and prosperity. As economies grow, as technology advances, as consumers become more environmentally aware, and as policies adapt, global energy demand will evolve to meet changing needs.

Global Outlook Report Jan. 8, 2024

Emissions

Emissions

Providing reliable, affordable energy to support prosperity and enhance living standards is coupled with the need to do so in ways that reduce impacts on the environment, including the risks of climate change.

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Global fundamentals

Global fundamentals

Energy is essential for human progress. Economic expansion and improving access to energy enable longer, more productive lives for the growing global population.

Global Outlook Report Jan. 8, 2024