What does it take to ensure a green-energy future?

Energy diplomacy can be a tool for strengthening international relations and avoiding conflict

The four units of the UAE's Barakah Nuclear Plant, in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation
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This week at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (Adipec), Amos Hochstein, the US special envoy and presidential co-ordinator for international energy affairs, offered a vision of a future global energy system that was inclusive and equitable.

Mr Hochstein spoke to me about how energy diplomacy can be a tool for strengthening international relations and avoiding conflict.

The energy transition with the shift away from a reliance on oil and gas to support action on global warming is an opportunity to reset how we produce, buy and sell resources and commodities.

The point is to ensure that there cannot be an overdependence on one country or one region, he said.

“What's happening today for renewables is not the thing about just money. But, if I think about batteries, and solar and wind, I think ‘Okay, where is all that coming from? Who owns it? Who makes it? How is it made?’,” said Mr Hochstein.

“A battery has things in it – it has cobalt and copper and graphite, and nickel. Where that coming from? Is it diversified? The answer's no. It's not diversified. So we need to get together and start thinking about who is mining all that stuff? Are they mining cleanly? Do we want a world that has clean energy that comes from dirty sources? Do I want the cobalt to be mined in a dirty mine then goes to a processing facility that's using coal? What's the point? So we need to have all of these things done around the world, not just in one place, in the US, in Australia, in Europe, in Africa, wherever, all over the world, a diversified system so that the renewable energy future, the green energy future is not the same as a 20th century oil and gas business. Take away the geopolitics of this. Let us be developed everywhere. Let competition be about who can do it the cleanest, healthiest, and most cost efficient way.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo has by far the most cobalt reserves. Indonesia is the largest producer of nickel. Chile is the world’s copper powerhouse and although China makes the most graphite, Turkey holds the largest amount of it.

A miner with a cobalt stone near Kolwezi, Congo, on October 12. Congo produced 72 per cent of the world’s cobalt last year. Demand is exploding due to themetal's use in rechargeable batteries that power mobile phones and electric cars. AFP

The number of countries involved in supply chains illustrate obstacles to creating a more equitable global energy system. Too many nations will need to buy-in to make it work.

That is mammoth scale diplomacy and given the state of permacrisis we seem to find ourselves in, there will be little bandwidth available to work on it. Mr Hochstein has devoted much of his career to turning energy discourse into something productive and positive.

“More often than not, people think of energy as tools of war tools of conflict, or not even that extreme, but tools of coercion, leverage, ‘if I sell to you, I own you’,” he told me.

“And that has been the case in Europe, in Asia, South China Sea and in the Middle East. So turning the tables is what I've been really trying to do for 10 years, 11 years now of working to see how do we do it the other way around. If it could be a tool of coercion, why can it not be a tool of co-operation? Because at the end of the day, if you can use it to integrate countries and economies, then you have something to lose, then when it goes away … going to conflict now has a cost,” he said.

Although it may sometimes be difficult to picture energy’s ability to draw countries together – for example when Europe and Russia are currently at loggerheads over gas supplies and the Ukraine war – signs of potential are clearly there.

We saw it in Paris in 2015 when the landmark climate agreement was forged. It was present in Glasgow last year for the climate summit Cop26. In Sharm El Sheikh next week for Cop27 and in the UAE next year for Cop28, nations and institutions will take the climate agenda further than it has ever been before. It took decades to build up this momentum but we have it now.

Bilateral deals on clean energy, including the $100 billion strategic Partnershipfor Accelerating Clean Energy between the US and the UAE are evidence of progress being made. Mr Hochstein is passionate about how energy can be a tool for positive and sustainable relationships between countries.

“I believe at the end of the day, fundamentally, if you have stability, and security and prosperity, you will not have conflicts. And everybody benefits. The trick is that they are all reinforcing of each other. If you have more stability and security, you have a better shot at prosperity. And if you have a lot more prosperity, you tend to have more security and stability,” he said.

Published: November 03, 2022, 2:00 PM
OPINION