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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Achieving net zero must be rapid but carefully considered


5 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Energy Institute CEO Nick Wayth Photo: Energy Institute 
Energy Institute CEO Nick Wayth CEng FEI

Photo: Energy Institute 

The energy transition is an incredibly complicated and urgent challenge, and no one understands that better than the industry itself. Here, Energy Institute (EI) CEO Nick Wayth CEng FEI reflects on the views of activist group Fossil Free London and offers his own thoughts on why conferences like International Energy Week are important for achieving a rapid and just transition for everyone.

You can read the article by Fossil Free London here.


The attention of demonstrators on International Energy Week 2023 is a reflection of the importance of the issues at play. While I don’t always agree with direct action methods, I admire activists’ passion and determination, without which the pressure for change – felt by industry, government and others – would be so much less. Would I even be writing this were it not for Greta?


Indeed, all voices, views and opinions on the energy transition ought to be heard; after all, the repercussions of climate change affect everyone.


That’s why we invited Fossil Free London, the activist group that disrupted the event, to offer their perspective on the energy transition for New Energy World. And that’s why next year we will invite them to join us on stage at the conference.


Shared goal
The vast majority of us want the world to be at global net zero. No one I met at International Energy Week disagreed with this. Nor was there any debate about the urgency of the crisis. Whatever wing of energy the attendees represented – renewable, conventional or on the demand side – there was and is a shared goal.


And that’s the same goal desired by Fossil Free London.


This should not be surprising given what’s at stake – namely, the future of our planet as a habitable place for us to live. The repercussions of a continued dependence on fossil fuels for our energy needs were abundantly clear throughout 2022, as droughts and storms battered Pakistan, India, China, Australia, southern Africa and the US, displacing millions, while heatwaves pushed temperatures to unprecedented levels here in London.


The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis report said that we’ve already increased global temperatures by 1.1°C and are likely to surpass 1.5°C in the 2030s. Consequently, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed to leaders of developed countries, calling on them to bring their net zero targets forward, as close as possible to 2040: ‘Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.’


But there is no consensus on how to get there, other than it has to involve a range of solutions – most importantly, transitioning away from the emissions-intensive hydrocarbons that currently fuel our energy system.


Transition cannot be slow
At our conference we heard about the need for a swift transition. But if anything has taught us the danger of doing this without careful consideration, it’s the events since Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine.


The abrupt disconnection of Europe from Russian gas, oil and coal supplies, and the resulting international price spikes, demonstrated what a disorderly transition away from fossil fuels looks like. As we all know, it caused profound pain across Europe and the wider global economy, particularly for the poorest in our societies.


But that mustn’t be an excuse for slowing the pace of the transition.


We cannot decouple from fossil fuels overnight – more than half of the world’s demand is met by oil and gas – but we do need to seize the opportunity presented by this crisis, along with the falling costs of renewables, to double down on the transition.


The guest of honour at the International Energy Week Dinner, Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, and Co-Chair of UN-Energy, reminded us that the energy transition means something very different in the developing world. For the 700 million people globally without electricity, the priority is simply to obtain access to energy – of any kind.


Therefore, I agree with Fossil Free London that we urgently need to accelerate the energy transition – but looking at the whole picture, it’s far more complicated than just quitting fossil fuels.


At International Energy Week we heard a lot about the progress being made – both targets and actual steps to meet them. The vast majority of the attendees are the people actually advancing the transition, not just talking about it. But it remains true that no one is yet doing enough, and that includes all of us who spoke at the conference. Because, impressive as humankind has been in its industrial achievements before, no challenge has ever been so great.


I agree with Fossil Free London that we urgently need to accelerate the energy transition – but looking at the whole picture, it’s far more complicated than just quitting fossil fuels.


Action AND awareness 
We need to get serious about the triple solution, and fast. It calls for both awareness and swift action by government, industry and all of us, such as:

  • Action on energy efficiency and demand side in our homes and industries. It’s a cliché but the cleanest, cheapest, most secure energy is the energy we don’t use.
  • The bulk deployment at pace of low-carbon electricity, in particular wind and solar, and electrification of as much of our economies as possible. Thanks largely to the work of industry, including those at International Energy Week, the levelised cost of generating renewable energy from utility-scale projects has fallen remarkably in the decade since 2010: by 88% for solar PV, 68% for onshore wind, and 60% for offshore wind, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Simultaneously, the price of technologies for balancing the grid have also dropped, with the cost of large-scale battery storage today about half that in 2017.
  • Cleaning up fossil fuels, while or where they are still needed (even the IPCC agrees we will need some oil and gas until 2050). A priority would be slashing methane emissions (something the industry is making progress with, as global gas flaring in 2022 fell to its lowest level since 2010) and capturing the emissions from hard-to-abate sectors using carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS).


This is why we at the EI put all of this on the agenda at International Energy Week and will continue to do so. It’s why accelerating the transition is the driver across our main goals of equipping the workforce, convening expertise and supporting the industry in making the changes needed.


Is it enough? Perhaps we’ll never be able to do enough fast enough. But we can have a damn good try.


Do I want to know climate activists are making their voices heard? Too right I do. But next year I hope they come to debate rather than disrupt.