Decarbonizing global energy while ensuring the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at affordable prices is the underlying challenge of this year’s climate summit, amid ongoing catastrophic climate events and the global energy crisis.
Russia, the world’s largest exporter of fossil fuels in 2021, left the world exposed to extreme energy price volatility after launching its invasion of Ukraine in February, highlighting the dangerous dependence on world economy to fossil fuels and the slow transition to renewable energies.
“Energy security and decarbonization are not mutually exclusive – in fact, decarbonization is the root of better energy security,” Richard Folland, senior adviser at Carbon Tracker, told Al Jazeera.
According to Folland, “systems based on renewable energy can provide greater energy independence by being locally produced energy sources and reduce the dependence on oil and gas of regimes such as Putin’s Russia”.
In its annual World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that the conflict in Ukraine was acting as a catalyst for the clean energy transition, despite some countries resorting to band-aid solutions to offset the decrease in Russian natural gas exports.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the world is on a “highway to climate hell” and has repeatedly hailed renewables as “the only credible path” to true energy security.
COP27 delegates are however advocating for a diversification of electricity generation, including nuclear power and fossil fuels in the energy mix.
What is energy security?
Ever since the invasion of Ukraine sent the world scrambling to replace Russian gas supplies, “energy security” has become a well-worn phrase.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last month that Europe was “at a critical moment for the security and stability of the European continent”.
“So we also need to rethink and reshape energy security in Europe,” she said.
According to the IEA, long-term energy security is mainly about investing in time to provide energy according to economic developments and environmental needs; in the short term, it is the ability of the energy system to react quickly to sudden changes in the supply-demand balance.
The global energy crisis has caused a short-term increase in the use of highly polluting coal to reduce fuel costs, the IEA said, but the increase is temporary as the world switches to alternative sources of cleaner energy.
The organization predicts that global demand for each type of fossil fuel will peak in the mid-2020s and then steadily decline, while investment in clean energy will rise from $1.3 trillion a year in 2021 to more than $2 trillion. dollars per year by 2030.
A study by independent think tank E3G has found that given runaway inflation mainly caused by high gas prices, renewable energy capacity has saved the European Union €99 billion (€102 billion). dollars) in gas imports avoided since March, a record increase of 11 billion euros ($11.3 billion) compared to the same period last year.
“We would say that if you compare the cost of wind and solar with gas, they are getting cheaper and cheaper, so moving to this renewable space system is a win-win both in terms of costs but also in terms of terms of emissions,” Folland said.
What path to net zero?
Wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles are at the heart of sustainable energy mixes, but their deployment remains laboriously slow.
While the IEA predicts investments will exceed $2 trillion per year by 2030, this amount is still half of what is needed to achieve net zero goals.
“Connecting renewable energies to our electricity grids, then [spreading] this as far as possible in your economy would already lead to a lot of decarbonization,” Ben McWilliams, climate policy consultant at Bruegel, told Al Jazeera.
A dizzying array of bureaucratic hurdles and regulatory hurdles have created lengthy delays, McWilliams said, but conceded the task at hand “is infrastructure construction of enormous proportions” that has historically taken decades rather than years. years.
As markets increasingly incorporate intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, some stakeholders at COP27 argued that maintaining the balance between supply and demand also called for to the use of nuclear power plants and solutions based on fossil fuels.
Proponents of nuclear energy took to the stage in Sharm el-Sheikh on Wednesday to say that atomic energy offers a safe and cost-effective way to decarbonize the planet.
“We won’t reach net zero by 2050 without nuclear power,” US climate envoy John Kerry told COP27.
The United States has earmarked billions of dollars for nuclear power projects as part of a broader strategy to decarbonize its economy, investing in new projects including a new generation of small nuclear power plants running on electricity. enriched uranium HALEU – which, as critics were quick to say. emphasize, is currently produced only by Russia.
Meanwhile, the EU announced last week that it would sign three initial agreements for so-called “green” hydrogen imports at COP27 with Kazakhstan, Egypt and Namibia.
As part of its strategy to diversify natural gas supplies, it has also relaunched the Baltic Pipe and included the controversial EastMed gas pipeline among its projects of common interest (PIC).
While scientists say leaving coal, oil and gas in the ground is necessary to meet Paris Agreement goals and keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the EU has endorsed fossil gas as a “transitional” fuel in its taxonomy of sustainable finance. earlier this year as African stakeholders at COP27 argue for the need for fossil fuels to grow their economies and access to electricity.
One of the lingering questions at COP27 has been whether African countries should receive financial support to produce, use and export natural gas as part of what African leaders see as a “just” energy transition that takes account of economic needs.
But renewable energy advocates have stood against governments, locking themselves into fixed contracts and long-term infrastructure projects that could end up becoming stranded assets.
“It’s unclear how much hydrogen we’ll need, so it’s hard to make investments – you could be putting your business on the line,” McWilliams said. About half of the world’s fossil fuel assets will be worthless by 2036 under a net-zero transition, according to a study published by the journal Nature.
Some groups highlighted the lack of political will as the main obstacle to a full deployment of renewable energy. More than 600 delegates affiliated with the fossil fuel industry are attending this year’s climate talks, activists say, more than the combined number of delegations from the 10 most climate-affected countries.
“Holding Us Down”
Pascoe Sabido, a researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory, told Al Jazeera that locking countries into long-term investments will ultimately lead to greater instability for the average household.
A report released by the organization earlier this month found that while Shell, TotalEnergies, Eni and Repsol had made 78 billion euros ($80.8 billion) so far this year, more than 100 meetings lobbying with senior European Commission officials delayed measures to ease the cost of living crisis.
EU and US oil and gas lobby groups have also worked with senior members of the European Parliament to push for more domestic gas production and more imports, the report said.
“What’s happening is that the gas industry is locking us into energy insecurity,” Sabido said.
“The gas industry is preventing us from moving away from the fossil fuel industry and into technologies that would allow us to have electricity in our own homes – but that would hurt their power and their profits. .”
#COP27 #energy #security #compatible #decarbonization