On 16th September 2021, the Energy Action Day was commemorated through an event organized by the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy and Utilities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme and the World Economic Forum (WE Forum). With the event leading up to the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy today and the COP26[SN1] in Glasgow from the 31st October – 12th November 2021, it offers a chance to reflect on the energy transition and on international cooperation and alliances in the energy sector.
Celebrating the Energy Action Day
Despite that renewables have a lot to promise, attempts to celebrate energy action might yet be dampened by doubts about how environmentally-friendly energy transition can be acceptedin different parts of the world. Renewable energy will affect anyone and everything. Regardless of how we lead our lives, what we witness, experience and value and, how we will be able to relate, is essentially bound to cultivating the ecosystem which shields us. Both, at societal and individual levels, the energy transition will play a key role in human relationships.
Fostering alliances and cooperation in the global energy sector is therefore not only indispensable for undoing human-made damages of the environment, but also for developing a proactive attitude towards the human-environment relationship, and for tackling inequalities which are the direct consequence of past non-sustainable projects in the global energy sector. As the Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen emphasized as a prelude to the Energy Action Day, the Danish government…
“…wants to ensure a green transition that leaves no one behind. That is why we need to support climate action in the Global South. Denmark has established partnerships on energy with 19 developing countries and emerging markets.” (IRENA, September 2021)
In addition to emphasizing the importance of North-South alliances in the global energy sector, Mette Frederiksen announced that Denmark is building the world’s first Energy Islands which constitute large-scale offshore wind power projects each with a capacity of 5GW. As explained on the project website, 5GW is sufficient to supply 5 million households with electricity. While the latter promise sounds ambitious, Denmark is also taking environmental standards seriously. Energinet has recently been launching environmental assessment studies and engaged the engineering consultancy firms Niras and Rambøll for this purpose.
In the next three years, these companies will focus on mapping and studying how marine mammals, fish stocks and birdlife will be affected by Denmark’s energy islands. Whereas biodiversity loss was not directly addressed on the agenda of the Energy Action Day, it should arguably not be taken off the renewables agenda. According to a 2021 article in the Science of the Total Environment, “windfarms…still have a substantial land footprint through vegetation removal, on-site construction of turbines on cement bases, and road sprawl”. The environmental impacts of renewables will hence have to be addressed in the future, especially considering that the energy transition constitutes a large-scale, global project.
A Brief Overview of the Energy Action Day
Other than discussing the preservation of biodiversity, the Energy Action Day presented an opportunity to discuss the following topics and a few more, which can be obtained through the IRENA schedule. While this article will provide a few insights from the initial sessions, the next article will more closely look at sessions three, four, five and the closing session. Especially, for anyone who missed the Energy Action Day and is looking for a few insights about international cooperation in the energy industry, this will hopefully serve well.
As was pointed out to kick off the Energy Action Day, the decarbonization of the energy sector is key in fighting climate change and in addressing access to energy, especially considering that “750 million people have no access to electricity [worldwide]…and 2.6 billion have no access to clean cooking facilities”. Conclusively, “leaving no one behind” seems bound to developing effective relationships and rules which are suitable to govern innovation in the energy industry and sub-industries such as engineering and tech.
As Anthony Hobley, co-executive director at the Mission Possible Partnership and executive fellow at the World Economic Forum (WEF), argued, it is of crucial importance to foster “a partnership between heavy industry, heavy mobility, the energy sector and governments to deliver the massive scaling-up we need in both clean power and the infrastructure, …[which] is gonna be absolutely necessary to supply the clean chemical fields that we will need for a net zero industrial…and [the] mobility future by 2050”.
With the first panel having addressed various aspects of Hobley’s argument, Mahendra Singhi, managing director and CEO of Dalmia Cement, explained that his company currently relies on an energy mix. More concretely, Dalmia Cement produces 25% of energy from waste, generates 75% of energy through solar power, generates a small amount of its energy through hybrid methods and relies 15% on renewables. Until 2030, the company’s aim is to fully rely on renewables.
Unlike Singhi, Melanie Nakagawa, White House Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director for Climate and Energy emphasized that “the global clean energy transition needs two efforts”: One of them builds on previously developed tech and its most effective use in the energy transition. The other is the further development of emerging technologies such as “hydrogen, direct air capture and zero emission processes”. Furthermore, Nakagawa reasoned that policy incentives such as clean energy tax cuts will be adopted to foster employment, technology and innovation in clean energies.
This session, which was moderated by Kate Abnett, the European Energy & Climate correspondent at Reuters, was attended by H.E. Andrea Meza Murillo, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica; Dan Jørgensen, Minister for Climate, Energy and Utilities of Denmark; and Christiana Figueres, founding partner of Global Optimism and former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). During the session, Christiana Figueres highlighted that despite the International Energy Agency (IEA) is usually regarded as a ‘conservative’ body, its last report clearly emphasized that it will not support any more initiatives based on gas nor oil.
Whereas the supply of oil and gas by far exceeded its demand in 2020, recent estimations by the IEA and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) suggest that the demand for oil will rise until 2022. The latter is contradictory with Figueres’ arguments at the Energy Action Day, which compares the development of renewables with the invention of the light bulb. As Figueres insists, nobody cared about investments into wax and candle making anymore after a more effective solution had been found. Abnett underlined this thought by announcing that both the Costa Rican and the Danish Government have taken steps to gradually reduce or refrain from oil and gas exploration and production.
As Dan Jørgensen explained, especially since Denmark “is traditionally an oil country”, which has hugely benefited from this industry,its obligation to accelerate innovation and progress through renewables as other countries with a rich oil history should be morally obligated to. In this mission, Denmark has decided to stop all future licensing rounds, which had already been authorized until 2052 and consequently forced the government to negotiate with companies in the ‘traditional’ energy industry. Unlike Denmark, as Andrea Meza Murillo emphasized, Costa Rica, which celebrated its 200 years independence on 15 September 2021, has already been working on renewables for 65 years.
Beyond that, the small but biodiverse country has generated 95-98% of its electricity from renewables since 2014, whereby most of its energy relies on wind and hydrogen power. Together with Denmark, Costa Rica has recently launched the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA), which aims to take the discussion about the exit from gas and oil to a political and diplomatic level. As Meza Murillo emphasized, to reduce global warming countries must not only keep an eye on their activities at home, but also be honest about their investments into other countries.
The session about the role of cities in delivering a net-zero energy system was moderated by Andy Deacon, the acting managing director of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and attended by Irací Hassler, the mayor of Santiago de Chile; Anna König Jerlmyr, the mayor of Stockholm, Sweden; Cécile Previeu, the executive vice president of ENGIE; Durga Shankar Mishra, India’s Secretary of Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs; and Matthew Baldwin, the Deputy Director-General of DG Move.
Irací Hassler, explained that the cities’ commitment to climate change was recently taken to a political level through a climate change plan, which is being developed with the feedback of the local community. Beyond, Hassler emphasized that alliances such as the Urban Energy Coalition, which was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the European Commission, Global Covenant of Mayors, World Economic Forum (WEF) and REN21, offer crucial opportunities to foster knowledge and make positive impacts scalable. Since cities contribute to 70% of energy-related global carbon emissions, coalitions and a scalable impact are particularly important.
Furthermore, as Matthew Baldwin explained, “cities are where policies and politicians most directly meet the people. City regulations and actions most directly affect their voters.” Whereas voting for parties and officials, who commit to the urban energy transition, is in the hands of citizens, the effective involvement of many more actors is decisive when it comes to promoting long-term changes in urban energy and generating certain co-benefits (i.e. lower energy bills, better air quality, less congestion, less noise etc.). Access to funding is an issue, which sadly affects cities as much as businesses.
Finally, Baldwin announced that the EU will soon launch a “Mission on 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities” with the aim to make 100 cities climate-neutral and smart by 2030. In addition, the EU will take measures to ensure that these cities will operate as “experimentation and innovation hubs” so that they are a sample to other EU cities, which conclusively can be climate-neutral by 2050. Starting from Baldwin’s claim that cities must both be climate-neutral and smart, Cécile Previeu contributed the argument that digital technologies alongside other new technologies (i.e. for energy storage) play a key role in the urban energy transition.
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