Energy has unjustly become a dirty word and is thought of in very narrow terms, with images of bleak industrial landscapes and pollution filled cities. Yet in many under developed and third world countries, access to energy is the difference between prosperity and poverty, sickness and health, life and death. The benefits of energy cannot be forgotten or become obsolete, energy is the backbone of our prosperity and wellbeing, and you cannot have a functioning, efficient, modern economy without it.
The World Bank estimates, for example, that the growth of around ten million small and medium-sized businesses in Africa is hampered by the lack of available energy.
Ben van Beurden, Shell’s Chief Executive Officer, recently shared his strong views that the climate change debate needs to pragmatic, common sense thinking and broader, focused not only on reducing CO2 emissions, but on developing a low carbon, high energy future to ensure prosperity for all.
Discussion frequently focusses only on the need to reduce CO2 emissions and centers on policy levers and mechanisms to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to other energy sources such as renewables. We are not addressing the urgent need for higher energy to drive prosperity. Far less discussion is devoted to the related, parallel and central imperative of securing sufficient additional energy to not only maintain current energy affluence for those who have it but also provide it for the 3 billion who live in energy poverty today and the additional billions yet to be born.
Many countries, such as China are entering into the phase of growth in which their energy consumption will surge, following the historical trend witnessed by richer countries in the past. We need to ensure the dialogue about the energy system is well informed and balanced, with greater understanding of the drivers and possibilities.
We are missing the necessary long-term global, regional and national policy frameworks – which may look different in different parts of the world- to guide and support building a cleaner, global energy system which is capable of meeting growing energy demand. We need long term solutions, and we need to avoid knee-jerk late responses that create avoidable disruption and destroy value for society. It is unsurprising that thus far international climate policy negotiations have so far failed to deliver significant change.
To bring about a shift and to broaden the frame of discussion, pragmatic collaboration is needed, between government, society and industry at an unprecedented scale. Building a sustainable, low carbon energy system will involve a lot of effort by a lot of people, with realistic and achievable outcomes. Cross sector groups need to convene, and develop mutual understanding and move beyond the polarized debate. It will be a difficult task, but it is necessary and urgent. A positive step is that in late 2015 governments will converge at the 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in Paris, to sign what is hoped will be a binding agreement to address climate change and reduce C02 emissions.