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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)
Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North, sat in chair on stage, in conversation with EI President Juliet Davenport, also sat in a chair on stage Photo: Oliver Dixon Photography/Energy Institute
Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North (right), in conversation with EI President Juliet Davenport (left)

Photo: Oliver Dixon Photography/Energy Institute

To understand what makes International Energy Week so compelling, look no further than some of the key speakers on Day One of the 2024 event in late February. New Energy World Features Editor Brian Davis highlights some of the thought-provoking issues expressed.

Controversy was never very far away at International Energy Week 2024. When Jim Skea, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a former Energy Institute (EI) President, was asked privately by Malcolm Brinded (also a former EI President) if he was optimistic or pessimistic about the energy transition, his answer was: ‘A bit of both’.


Indeed, his keynote kicked off with a bleak picture of ‘losing warm water corals if we don’t change course, while global emissions continue to climb’. On the plus side, Skea noted that the IPCC has identified over 20 countries with sustained reductions in emissions over a decade.


Skea emphasised that most of the world’s emissions are now covered by net zero targets for the second half of the 21st century. What’s more, there have been ‘incredible falls’ in the cost of renewables during this period, with now more than 10% of the world’s electricity coming from wind and solar.


Although there are things to be optimistic about, Skea said there is no room for complacency and ‘we need to build on this kind of progress’. He stressed that the energy sector has an ‘absolutely vital’ role to play, since the fossil fuel sector accounts for about two-thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions. And if you add methane, this figure rises to an 80% contribution.


The key message was: ‘Without the energy sector, we cannot have successful action on climate change.’ In its last report, the IPCC identified near-term opportunities for action up to 2030. Skea recognised that although ‘a lot had been done, there’s a lot more that needs to be done’.


He suggested that one of the challenges for the energy transition will be the question of supporting infrastructure in less-developed parts of the world, to allow greater penetration of renewables into electricity grids.


‘Without the energy sector, we cannot have successful action on climate change.’ – Jim Skea, Chair of the IPCC and a former EI President


Skea also decried the lack of sufficient attention on methane reduction in the oil and gas sector. ‘Despite that, it will pay off very quickly in terms of holding the temperature,’ he added. Whereas issues like hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) need long-term investments and preparation… as well as nuclear, ‘a delicate issue in the IPCC’, he admitted.


The big issue for Skea and the IPCC is the need to pay more attention to the demand side and the role of consumption patterns in human behaviour. In its last cycle, the IPCC concluded that demand-side measures could reduce emissions by 40–70% by 2050.


‘Scenarios are the bane of my life,’ Skea commented, but highlighted a ‘sobering picture’ regarding the carbon budget and how much CO2 could be put into the atmosphere to limit warming to certain levels. ‘If the emissions from current fossil fuel infrastructure run unabated, they will more than exhaust the carbon budget for 1.5°C… this has big implications,’ he noted. 

To not exceed 1.5°C, coal use globally would need to fall 95% by 2050, oil by 60% and gas by 45%. Preventing a global temperature rise of greater than 2°C requires an 85% reduction of coal, 30% of oil and 15% of gas, as well as constraining coal reserves by 80%, gas reserves by 50% and oil reserves by 20% if they were not abated.


Skea drove the point home: ‘The challenges for the energy system are huge. It’s not just the transition; transformation will be needed. In some ways, our successes have been on the easy bits. Though creating a gigawatt offshore wind farm is an outstanding engineering challenge, it’s the easy bit, as a small number of people can make big decisions. The big challenge is shifting billions of smallholders and households to make changes.’


Finally, Skea said one of his proudest achievements as a former EI President was getting climate change on the programme agenda when it was still International Petroleum Week.


Jim Skea sitting in chair on stage in conversation with former EI President Juliet Davenport

Professor Jim Skea, Chair of the IPCC and former EI President (right), speaks with current EI President Juliet Davenport (left)
Photo: Oliver Dixon Photography/Energy Institute


Labour agenda 
Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North and potentially the future Energy Secretary in a Labour government after the election, argued the energy transition ‘is a marathon not a sprint’. He told of Labour’s ambition to make Britain a ‘clean energy superpower – not just for climate action but to create jobs of the future’.


The agenda does not come as a big surprise, nor is its emphasis on lower energy bills, energy security and, of course, a clean energy transition.


He decried the fact that ‘too often initiatives like carbon capture and hydrogen projects were stalled by sluggish decisionmaking’. Miliband defined his party’s mission as creating a zero carbon power system by 2030, with five key strategies ‘because a clean power system is the linchpin of net zero’.


Indeed, Labour’s leader Keir Starmer has given the energy transition top billing among five priorities, ‘because he sees it as being good for jobs, growing the economy, lowering bills and for energy security’, noted Miliband.


Returning to those five strategies, he continued: ‘If I am Secretary of State for Energy, we cannot reject any power sources. We need them all, providing they are value for money. Labour’s 2030 clean power strategy means doubling onshore wind, trebling solar power, quadrupling offshore wind, with support for nuclear power and other technologies. With backup dispatchable electricity through gas with CCS, hydrogen and battery storage, along with more flexible demand.’


Miliband claimed that the current ban on new onshore wind in England since 2015 has cost families £180 per year in higher bills. ‘The current government could overturn this ban very easily. It doesn’t require legislation. But there is a culture of inertia and stasis. Difficult decisions are being ducked.’


Thirdly, he spoke of the willingness to use the power of government to plan and deliver ‘a very clear roadmap again’ on carbon reduction in Britain.

Notably, he didn’t disrespect oil and gas. ‘It is vital that we have a managed transition in your sector for energy security and for workers,’ he told International Energy Week delegates. ‘So we can use the extraordinary infrastructure of the North Sea for our future.’


Miliband recognised that the party’s ambition to build clean power is ‘a very ambitious task, which depends not primarily on the scale of public investment, but our ability to remove obstacles to investment; what I call the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – grid, planning, supply chain and skills’.


Fourthly, he sees public investment ‘crowding in, not crowding out private investment’, given the lesson of the US Inflation Reduction Act. He noted Labour’s intention to invest £1.8bn to upgrade UK ports, so offshore wind turbines can be manufactured at home; £1bn extra in industrial clusters to accelerate the deployment of CCS; £1.5bn for electric battery factories; £2.5bn in steel; and a £1.5bn jobs bonus. Along with creation of Great British Energy – as a new publicly owned company, to invest in ‘leading edge’ technologies like floating wind and small nuclear reactors in partnership with the private sector.


Finally, he promised that the clean energy mission would be a ‘whole government’ effort, with the authority of the Prime Minister if Labour wins the next election. And a 2030 Clean Power Act as well… as he was ‘determined that the path will be set to achieve things on timetables that some thought impossible’.


‘Building clean power depends not primarily on the scale of public investment, but our ability to removed obstacles to investment. What I call the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – grid, planning, supply chain and skills.’ – Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North and potential future Energy Secretary of State


Just Stop Oil 

Graham Buss of Just Stop Oil sat on stage alongide fellow panellists

Graham Buss of Just Stop Oil (left) makes a point while fellow panellists David Whitehouse, CEO, OEUK (middle) and Kevin Birn, Global Head, Centre of Emissions Excellence, S&P Global (right) look on
Photo: Oliver Dixon Photography/Energy Institute

The last word goes to Just Stop Oil campaigner and former Shell employee Graham Buss, who stressed the need to move forward on decarbonisation with far more urgency. At one point, when a fellow International Energy Week panellist described him as passionate, Buss replied with a stinging rebuke: ‘I am angry, not passionate!’


Buss didn’t pull his punches: ‘I want to say how very serious the climate crisis is.’ He pointed to Tim Renton of Exeter University’s alarming prediction that: ‘We have a credible future in which we have a hothouse world, where there will be no economy… in which most people will die. That’s the world we have to avoid.’


In a stark scenario, he noted: ‘It’s not the “medium case”. It’s the “greatest risk” case… four degrees and possibly more. What’s more, the government’s own website – which used to be called BEIS – actually said we have to prepare for four degrees of adapting.’


On the positive side, he recognised that ‘we have most of the solutions already in place’. Buss emphasised the need to manage demand. ‘We have to pull on all levers, not just the ones we like,’ he said.


Then Buss came out all guns blazing with criticism of the oil and gas sector – where he has previously worked.


‘The oil and gas sector is not part of the solution. The oil and gas sector is slowing down the transition… That’s why the International Energy Agency has said that “no new oil and gas is just the start of the change that we have to make”. And that a central requirement for a safe transition is to wind down the oil and gas sector.’


Buss said that when he worked for Shell, a former Head of Strategy told him that the ‘key drivers are for the oil industry are survival and profit’. He continued: ‘And a Chairman of an IOC (international oil company) once told me he was optimistic about the future! Now no one who understands the climate crisis should be optimistic. Sir David King (former UK government advisor) says we are right to be frightened.’


‘That’s what the public needs to understand,’ said Buss. ‘Government has to tell the public how serious it is. If they were doing that, I wouldn’t have been part of Just Stop Oil, because the public would know that these things are happening.’


He felt that COP28 was a failure, partly due to the presence of 2,500 oil executives. ‘Why were they there? To slow down the transition.’ He criticised Shell’s response to environmental critics – in which the oil major says that its operations are justified because they are just meeting public demand – like the ‘drug dealer defence’!


Buss didn’t stop there. He stated: ‘The gas sector has to realise that its time is over.’


‘The positive side is that we’ve got a solution to oil and gas. So let’s implement it,' he continued. ‘And once we’ve made that decision that the oil and gas sector is dying, dead and buried, then the money, the [renewables] investment will flow much faster… and we will see optimism returning. Because at the moment, I’m not optimistic.’


And 30 minutes later protesters broke into the International Energy Week conference, temporarily accusing BP of ‘being killers’, before being escorted from the hotel.


What’s important is that the debate on the energy transition continues openly, with all sides of the discussion represented as we move towards a just transition. To this end, International Energy Week has a unique and important role to play.