Summary of the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit

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By Keith Burnard

13 July 2020

Ministers from dozens of countries accounting for over 80% of the world economy took part in the International Energy Agency’s first Clean Energy Transitions Summit. Image courtesy of IEA.

On the 9th July the IEA held a high-level Ministerial meeting to discuss accelerating the transition to clean energy in the context of COVID-19. This is a summary by IEAGHG staff.

Opening plenary

To avoid the sharp rebound in emissions that followed the 2009 global financial crisis, the IEA very quickly called for a sustainable economic recovery with clean energy at its heart in response to the current COVID-19 crisis, calling for governments to put clean energy at the heart of their economic recovery plans. The pandemic has seen energy demand decline by a factor of seven greater than it did for the financial crisis, which has resulted in a substantial decline in emissions. However, global energy investments have also declined, by 20% or $400 million. The call for a sustainable economic recovery has met with broad support across the globe.

Around 40 ministers took part in the Summit, from countries representing almost 80% of global energy consumption and global carbon emissions. As well as António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Alok Sharma, Secretary of State of the United Kingdom and President of the upcoming COP26, the Summit saw high-level representation from the UN, WEF and ADB, and also from senior industrial executives. According to the IEA, about half a million people followed the discussions on social media.

All speakers spoke of the challenge ahead, pressing the importance of investing in clean, low-carbon technologies to create a green recovery.

Panel 1 Accelerating Clean Energy Technology Innovation

Panel 1 was chaired by Tina Bru, the Minister of Petroleum and Energy for Norway.The minister re-emphasised a familiar theme from the opening plenary session, and exemplified by EU’s Green Deal Strategy, to regenerate the post-COVID-19 global economy by investment in low-carbon technologies.Several contributors to the panel session were allocated 2-minute slots to set out their vision for the future, often based on their own specific interests.Participants drew upon the IEA’s five key innovation principles and discussed how to scale up critical emerging technologies like batteries; hydrogen; carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) and bioenergy. Many stressed the benefits of renewable energy because of its environmental benefits, and there was widespread recognition of the need for investment and development in energy storage.Many countries for example South Korea, plan to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2034.Greece will even phase out electricity generation from lignite by 2023, which is a considerable feat because it supplies 20% of the country’s electricity supply.

The necessity for adopting a flexible approached was echoed by US Deputy Secretary Ted Garrish.He stressed investment in grid integration especially with growing renewables capacity, but innovation was still necessary to guarantee baseload.This meant nuclear, CCUS and DAC were necessary.

Panel 2: An Inclusive and Equitable Recovery

Panel 2 , co-chaired by The Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources, Canada and H.E. Aziz Rabbah, Minister of Energy, Mines and Environment of Morocco, noted the key and timely publication of the 2020 ETP. The panel recognised that the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic must support workers, communities and businesses. Inclusivity will be key, global access to energy for all is necessary and the recovery should be people-centred. The Ireland representative on the panel, H.E. Mr Eamon Ryan TD, noted that in terms of their specific energy system changes, they will be looking to restore the closing peatlands to store carbon dioxide, rather than emit; creating jobs and working towards climate targets.

Panel 3: A resilient and sustainable electricity sector

Panel 3 was co-chaired by the EC’s Kadri Simson and Thailand’s Sontirat Sontijirawong.

On an early positive note, it was highlighted that the electricity sector, globally, had shown itself to be resilient; it had coped enormously well with the pandemic. To maintain that resilience while transitioning to a truly low-carbon energy system on a global scale lay at the heart of the challenge to maintain or enhance energy security for many countries. Resource diversification leading to a diverse energy mix would be an important factor. Enhancing markets and regulatory frameworks would be central to taking advantage of recovery packages and governments would play a key role in this. Investments in the energy sector, rather than being static as they had been in recent years, would need to not only recover to their pre-pandemic levels but to increase dramatically – noting that long lead times would likely for optimum outcomes.

Closing plenary

Following feedback from the co-chairs of each of the three panel sessions, the Summit was closed following remarks from US Secretary Dan Brouillette and IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. Mr Brouillette spoke of the bottom up approach to the United States’ approach to developing its energy sector. Innovation was pivotal to this methodology and could be summed up by an approach to transforming the status quo that says ‘if sources are clean, they should be used to generate more electricity; if they are not so clean, they should be made cleaner; and where they may be intermittent, they should be made more reliable.’ The United States would be focusing on developing a cleaner, lower-carbon energy mix, not discounting any fuel or technology. In leading the way on this approach, the United States led R&D spend globally across a whole range of clean energy technologies.

Overall, participants applauded the IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Plan, which sets out 30 actionable, ambitious policy recommendations and targeted investments. Participants agreed to reconvene again in mid-2021 at a second IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit to ensure the world fully takes advantage of this historic responsibility.

For the chair’s summary and a recording of the whole summit, see https://www.iea.org/news/40-ministers-from-around-the-world-gather-to-address-the-world-s-energy-and-climate-challenges

Keith Burnard, James Craig, Sam Neades and Tim Dixon

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