When addressing the challenge of providing much more energy with far fewer emissions, the world must not fall into the trap of looking to future breakthrough technologies for all the answers. In this speech, Maarten Wetselaar argues there are three steps that can be taken right now: increase the use of natural gas (the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon); boost investment in low-carbon energy sources; and introduce more government-led carbon pricing systems.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here.
As you’ve heard, the ‘grand transition’ we’re discussing today is about providing energy to everyone. As things stand, around 1.1 billion people still live without electricity.
It’s also about tackling climate change and air pollution. Billions of people still cook food and heat homes using wood or other biomass. As a result, four million people die every year prematurely, according to the World Health Organization.
Big numbers which should inspire big change.
Ultimately, the challenge is getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. This is a situation where overall, no additional emissions enter the atmosphere.
There’s no doubt it’s an unprecedented challenge. But it is possible. Shell has set out a plausible pathway for the world to achieve economic growth and net-zero emissions from energy during the century.
To do this, the entire global economy needs to transform. This is especially true for the four key sectors of the energy system: power, buildings, transport and industry.
This means investing in multiple sources of energy. It means major improvements in energy efficiency – of homes, businesses and cities. And it means more government-led initiatives that promote low-carbon technologies and infrastructures, such as carbon capture and storage.
World leaders focused on the so-called ‘grand transition’ at two landmark events last year. At the UN Sustainability Summit in New York, they agreed that “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” is needed.
Fast forward a few months and the same set of leaders met in Paris for the UN climate summit. As you know, they agreed to work towards keeping the global rise in temperature from pre-industrial times to well below 2°C.
Impressive words, which need to be followed up with more action. And urgently.
With a challenge as significant as the one the world faces, talk inevitably turns to the importance of new innovations.
All well and good. But what about what’s on offer today?
On the rare bad day my beloved football team Feyenoord is not on form, I notice the players look at each other waiting for someone else to inject that moment of magic which will shake-up the game.
The world mustn’t fall into the same trap and look to future breakthroughs for all the answers.
I’m not saying they won’t happen. Lots of great minds are on the case. But there are other steps that can be taken right now.
Like increasing the use of gas – the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon – throughout the energy system. In power. In transport. In heavy industry.
In cities like Ankara and Istanbul gas has had a big positive impact on air quality. A new study by IHS has found that by boosting use of gas further, as well as increasing renewables and reducing investment in coal-fired power production, Turkey would be able to avoid a hidden health cost of some 14 billion euros between 2016 and 2030.
Another important step to take is boosting investment in low-carbon energy sources including biofuels and hydrogen, as well as renewables such as wind and solar. Hydrogen fuel cell electric cars, for example, do not produce greenhouse gases from their tailpipe – the only emission is water.
A third action for the here and now is the introduction of more government-led carbon pricing systems. These systems are the single most effective policy instrument for bringing about widespread and permanent reductions in emissions.
In April last year the UK introduced a carbon price floor of £18 per tonne. Using analysis from Aurora, this contributed to gas demand in the power sector shooting up by 56% and coal-fired power generation dropping by 73% in the first half of 2016. The result was that emissions from the power sector in the UK decreased by 24%.
While work is ongoing to look for new innovations for the future, let’s not lose sight of the changes which can be made right here, right now.
More renewables. More natural gas. And new policies which encourage their growth. These are three key developments which will take the world much further on the path to a low-carbon future. What are we waiting for?