RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA: Global energy policy-makers mapped out diverse pathways to achieving climate neutrality at a forum hosted by the International Energy Forum (IEF) and the European Union (EU) on Thursday.
The world is at a pivotal stage in the transition to net-zero emissions, and the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for greater international solidarity over the energy-climate nexus, where more investment is required to bring new technologies within reach, delegates heard at the 5th IEF-EU Energy and Climate Day.
"Despite the different pathways charted to net-zero, policymakers share the same ultimate goal, and this is something we must build on," said Joseph McMonigle, Secretary General of the IEF, during the virtual gathering. "Dialogue and cooperation on pathways to climate neutrality and circular carbon economies facilitate the scaling up of new technologies such as sequestration, renewables and hydrogen. Much can be won if we build back better by capitalizing on the new energy and climate solidarity that 2020 has created."
Ambassador Patrick Simonnet, Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, noted that the EU has set an ambitious deadline of 2050 to achieve climate neutrality, in part, to inspire the rest of the world because no one region or country can do it alone.
"Now you see we have a critical mass of 60 percent of global CO2-emissions countries and 70 percent of the global economy that has taken commitments for climate neutrality. The message is, we need the club to grow," said Ambassador Simonnet.
HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, Minister of Energy, Saudi Arabia, urged fellow ministers to be mindful of the diversity of the actors on the world stage.
"We need to be flexible and mindful of the diversity of the participants and their priorities," he told the forum.
"If we are to congregate around the concept of attending to emissions reductions of all sources of all sectors, if that ambition becomes our common goal and objective, and we enable everybody to use whatever tools they have in their kit existing today, or be willing to spend the money to develop the technologies… I think we will be in good shape," Prince Abdulaziz said.
"To try to strike too many goals in one, to decarbonise for the purpose of decarbonising without being mindful of how much that may impact the world economy and how much it would not be that persuasive to get the collaboration of others, is something to be reconsidered."
H.E. Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, European Commission, said that the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate and biodiversity crises and the industrial revolution have created a pivotal moment in global history. The impact of these factors has the potential to be devastating if left unresolved.
"The COVID crisis would pale in comparison, and unlike in the pandemic where we will overcome it once everyone has access to the vaccine, there is no vaccine for climate change," said Mr Timmermans.
H.E. Tinne Van der Straeten, the Belgian Minister of Energy, drew a parallel between today and the period after the Second World War, when six European countries created the Coal and Steel Community in 1951.
"In 1951, we introduced coal and steel, but with the Green Deal, we are leading a paradigm shift of a fossil-driven energy to a technology-driven one. Clean and affordable. Yet again energy is serving as a catalyst for change," she said.
Already, developing countries in the Middle East and Africa are adopting more sustainable energy sources, delegates heard.
H.E. Tarek El-Molla, Egypt's Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, said the North African nation was aiming to generate 42 percent of its electricity from renewables including solar and wind by 2030.
"We are committed to an energy mix and diversification for Egypt," he said.
While wind and solar power sources are being deployed massively worldwide, policy makers stressed that new technologies – including carbon capture and hydrogen – would also be required to achieve climate neutrality.
"The fact that we're working on new molecules and new fuels of the future that will be beyond the hydrocarbons we have today is fantastic. There is a growing realization on both sides that this is a great opportunity," said Frank Wouters, Director of the EU GCC Clean Technology Network.
Seifi Ghasemi, President and Chief Executive Officer of Air Products, predicted that in the future, about half of electricity would be used directly as energy for light transport, heating, cooling, cooking and industry. The other half would be used to break down water to produce green hydrogen, he said. Ultimately, hydrogen made from renewable energy will be the power source for buses, trucks, trains and heavy industry, he predicted.
Dr. Noé van Hulst, Chair of the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells In the Economy (IPHE), said there were numerous ways to approach the use of hydrogen across the globe, and there were opportunities for hydrocarbon producers too: "You can prolong the life of fossil fuel assets by turning them partly into blue hydrogen and exporting it to countries like Europe that need it so much, not to mention Japan, Korea and others."
The Saudi Minister raised the prospect of the Kingdom supplying green hydrogen to Europe by pipeline if the economics allow.
"To reach the target of net-zero emissions requires all technologies to be put on the table and treated equally," said Dr. Adnan Shihab-Eldin, Director General of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. He said one key challenge was the absence of a way to measure, verify, report and certify greenhouse gas emissions from all energy users and identify institutions that can do it. "Is it going to be the International Energy Forum that can do that? Is it going to be a new entity, we don't know, but we need it," he said.
Energy industry observers argued that it was important not to see the energy transition as a zero-sum game. All options need to be open, and energy leaders should look for a framework where there are no winners and losers.
"The whole concept of the circular carbon economy is to take everything good in the circular carbon economy -- reduce, reuse and recycle -- and add the fourth 'R' of remove," said Adam Sieminski, President, King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre. "There's actually a lot of compatibility with what the EU is doing and the circular carbon economy," he said.