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Achieving net zero – perspective of a young professional in the Middle East

15/6/2022

4 min read

Head and shoulders picture of Piotr Konopka Photo: Piotr Konopka
Piotr Konopka, Board Member of the EI Middle East

Photo: Piotr Konopka

When it comes to climate action, it is inevitable that younger generations will inherit the consequences of what is done today. As a result, they must be recognised as the critical voices of the energy transition debate, writes Piotr Konopka, Board Member of the EI Middle East, and Senior Manager of Energy and Decarbonisation Programmes at a global shipping and logistics company.

The risk of inaction during the energy transition is tremendous. It includes loss of revenue, loss of land space and loss of drinking water – all of which will contribute to a decline in everyone’s quality of life.

 

However, I think there is a well-founded fear that we are not on track to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century and are missing the principles of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This call to action is well articulated in the EI Generation 2050’s manifesto.

 

Despite that, less than 30% of the $2tn spent on the energy sector in 2021 went into clean energy and innovations. Furthermore, although the power sector in 2021 saw the largest ever increase in renewable energy deployment, it also witnessed the largest increase in CO2 emissions in history.

 

Energy transition aptitude in the Middle East 

As the world moves towards net zero, the energy sector in the Middle East – which historically has been viewed through the oil and gas lens – should not see this as a threat. New resources can be a stable source of income, but the shift requires complex and challenging reforms.

 

Technically and financially, the region can deliver on net zero. However, it requires political will and robust roadmaps for the transition of economies which for decades have been reliant on revenues from fossil fuels. This long experience of fossil fuel engineering can play in the Middle East’s favour if it successfully applies those skills in sustainable energy. On top of that, the region is blessed with abundant renewable energy resources.

 

Recently we have seen bold net zero commitments by the governments of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia around decarbonisation and breakthrough renewable energy projects. Back in 2015, the cost for the first phase of the Mohamed Bin Rashid solar park in Dubai was 5.85$c/kWh. The latest mega-project signed in Abu Dhabi saw a reduction of the cost to 1.32$c/kWh – a staggering 82% drop in just six years.

 

The role of young professionals in the energy transition
Young professionals have a huge role to play in the sustainable future, and it is great to see their increasing involvement.

 

The Middle East has one of the youngest and fastest growing populations. In order to equip them with the skills required to lead the energy transition, the key is to ensure that the education system catches up with the dynamism of the energy industry.

 

Young professionals must also be given the right opportunities to learn and apply this knowledge on the job.

 

Is there hope?

The climate is changing, and we must see some fundamental changes in the way in which the world produces and consumes energy. Global thought leaders such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) believe that, as a global community, we can achieve the 1.5°C pathway and that this energy transition could bring significant opportunities. But the 2020s will have to be the decade that witnesses massive deployment of clean technologies as well as significant R&D into new technologies that will have to be deployed through the 2030s and 2040s. These include low carbon fuels, carbon capture and storage (CCS), electrification (eg we still do not have a solution for long-distance, heavy-duty freight) and hydrogen.

 

These advancements will have to be driven by developed economies. But there is a question of trust – will the developed world live up to the expectation of pushing the energy transition?

 

The time to act is now
As a young professional who spent his entire (albeit short) career working on mitigating and adapting to climate change, I do remain hopeful. I believe that delivering on net zero is a golden opportunity to promote economic prosperity, energy security and a sustainable future.

 

We need to acknowledge that to prevent the climate catastrophe, we have only one generation and approximately a five-year window to make the necessary decisive actions.

 

I would like to acknowledge the inputs that inspired this article by industry thought leaders from TAQA, Sustainable Energy Authority Bahrain, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and IRENA, who participated in the Energy Institute YPN-ME Generation 2050 roundtable on the topic of ‘Can the Middle East deliver on net zero?’.

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