World faces ‘messy transition’ towards green energy due to political, social factors: World Energy Council chief
The secretary general and CEO of the World Energy Council (WEC) Angela Wilkinson spoke to CNA at this year’s Ecosperity Week, held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
SINGAPORE: As the world moves towards cleaner energy, it faces multiple challenges due to political and social factors, the World Energy Council (WEC) chief said on Wednesday (Jun 7).
The transition must also be just and inclusive, and ensure groups, such as workers, do not get left behind and can benefit from new opportunities, said WEC’s secretary general and CEO Angela Wilkinson.
Speaking to CNA at the Ecosperity Week, Dr Wilkinson noted that countries are interdependent on one another in the energy sector.
She added that they have to compromise for the greater good and not let politics get in the way.
A MESSY TRANSITION
Dr Wilkinson said the transition is not just about technology, but also “about money and people and geographies (and) about hopes and fears”.
Changing society’s relationship with energy and achieving an unprecedented transition of such scale, is “not an easy, quick fix”, she said.
She highlighted the need for a “just and inclusive” transition.
“Some countries are going to continue to use coal. Can they include carbon offsets with that? Because they don't have other options. They can't not use any energy, right?”
Dr Wilkinson also noted there is a re-skilling challenge involved for workers in the energy sector.
There will be 40 million new jobs in renewable energy, compared to 20 million in fossil fuels, she said.
“But they are not one-to-one jobs. They are not in the same place, they are not the same capabilities and they are not the same pay and job rates,” said Dr Wilkinson.
Beyond big projects, the world needs to explore how people can take smaller steps to bring the interests of diverse communities to the table.
“What's the point in having a healthy planet if we haven't got social and economic progress at the same time?”
She said that what works at the market and government level, must not be confused with what works in communities and societies.
The energy transition is happening alongside industrial development, political transitions and social transformations, noted Dr Wilkinson.
“And this is why it's messy, because you can't just do it by being an economist or an engineer. You've actually got to be able to engage in multi-stakeholder dialogues,” she said.
“You have to cooperate with people you don't agree with, and you all have to move forward because the direction is clear, even though the pathways are divergent.”
DOUBLING DOWN ON FOSSIL FUELS
Noting that certain countries in the global south are actually doubling down on their use of coal, Dr Wilkinson said that there is “no one-size-fits-all” approach to energy transition.
There has been increasing diversity in energy systems for decades, in terms of technologies, resources, needs, interests and geographies, she said.
“So China, India, and other countries around the world all have different starting points,” she said.
“They need to manage their transition, which is not just climate resilient and climate neutral, but also just and inclusive in terms of providing economic prosperity to their citizens.”
Dr Wilkinson said the global energy system is vulnerable to shocks, such as the ongoing European security crisis sparked by Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the potential global economic recession.
Such vulnerabilities are pushing countries towards greater re-localisation of energy security.
However, nations also recognise that interdependencies are necessary, she said.
“Even if we decouple part of the energy system from Russia, there will be new interdependencies between countries,” noted Dr Wilkinson.
“And if you want to manage interdependencies, it's better to have an attitude not of ‘I'm right, you are wrong’,” she added.
“The planet can't be dictated by political boundaries.”