While most climate experts believe that carbon emissions must be cut drastically to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming, the new report shows that most countries do not have the energy systems in place to transition away from the carbon-intensive energy production methods in use today.
“There is a huge shortfall of private investment into low-carbon and energy infrastructure projects,” said Mark Robson, a partner at Oliver Wyman, the management consulting firm that co-authored the study. “Our report makes it clear that industry looks to policymakers for the assurance that their investments won’t become uneconomic due to policy changes. Therefore policymakers must create policies that remain stable over time and are joined up with other policies.”
Intergovernmental efforts to create a meaningful global climate policy have largely failed. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, was rendered toothless when the United States refused to ratify it. More recently, the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen was largely panned for failing to produce a binding emissions treaty.
The new report, entitled “Time to get real – the case for sustainable energy policy,” makes three broad recommendations for policy makers, based on interviews with dozens of CEOs and senior energy executives from around the world.
First, policy makers need to design coherent, regionally coordinated energy policies that combine industrial, environmental, and transportation goals. Next, leaders must support market conditions that would attract long-term investments in renewable energy. Finally, policy makers need to get behind more research and development in all areas of energy technology.
“All countries face challenges in their transition towards more secure, environmentally friendly, and equitable energy systems,” said Pierre Gadonneix, chairman of the World Energy Council, the UN-accredited global energy body that also co-authored the report. “If we are to have any chance of delivering sustainable energy for all, we need to get real.”
Among the report’s more surprising findings is that the Middle East, a region that relies heavily on the perpetuations of the global carbon economy, may be particularly well positioned to lead the world in developing renewable energy. While the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait currently trail nearly half the world’s nations in terms of their ability to provide sustainable energy, the region is moving faster than many nations to achieve sustainable energy systems.
“The Middle East is well-positioned to take the lead in the global sustainable energy race that is about to reshape the world’s energy landscape,” said Robson. “Most governments in the Middle East have set out aggressive plans for reaching sustainable energy goals over the next eight to 18 years and they have the political leadership and financial resources to achieve them.”
The new report conflicts with research from Stanford’s Mark Jacobson and the University of California’s Mark Delucchi that found that most of the technology required to shift from fossil fuel to clean, renewable energy already exists. Jacobson and Delucchi did note, however, that achieving such a shift would require a total commitment from both the public and private sectors.