Lord David Howell
The spasmodic movements towards reality, evident during 2023 in the great global energy transition project, will intensify in 2024.
Chief amongst these at the world level is the realisation that present trends and present policies will not deliver the Paris targets. Full decarbonisation in energy supplies by 2050 is not going to be reached without the acceptance that fossil fuel power will still play a substantial part in energy supply everywhere by the mid-century, and that demand growth, whilst slowing with extensive efficiency and conservation gains, will still be vastly higher in an aspiring all-electric world.
Statements of aspiration regarding fossil fuel production (and use), such as that emerging from COP28, may help to keep the challenges centre stage. But if 2050 is to remain in the frame, the time for radical actions has indeed arrived.
The to-do list will look something like this:
1. Full-out continued investment in all forms of wind-power, seabed, floating and land-based, with government contracts based on realistic full costs instead of bureaucratic guesses. The North Sea capacity, for example, organised collectively by all littoral states probably needs to expand by five times.
2. Multiple expansion of solar sites in ‘sun’ states, with greatly enlarged exports (by new technology deep-sea cables ) and by hydrogen shipping (of which the Moroccan-UK ‘X Links’ project is a good example).
3. Very much higher prioritisation of all CCS schemes and CCUS schemes, recognising that both gas-burning and coal-burning will still be a major percentage of electricity generation in 2050.
4. Realisation that the 2050 decarbonisation target may have to slide to later in the century.
5. Re-setting of climate strategies by countries like the UK to ensure maximum contribution to new CCUS technology and export of same for Asian and African thousands of smokestacks.
6. Policy changes to increase winning of consent from consumers (and electors) for the ‘costs’ of the world energy transition.
7. Upgrading of all adaptation investments, including flood defences and rising sea-levels.
8. Strongest commitment to new smaller modular reactors based on new technologies, private finance, quick build, new fuels, and lower waste.
If the 2024 agenda swings this way, then we could see new realism filter into the climate debate. Let’s hope.