We have come to think of climate action along two temporal lines: "Before Paris" and "After Paris", with the 2015 Agreement acting as the watershed moment that divides them. In the years to come, we will think of the geopolitical energy map as defined by a similar dichotomy: "Before the Transition" and "After the Transition".
Despite the inevitable disruption that will occur as we transition to a new energy system, we have an opportunity unlike any other in history to ensure that the geopolitical energy map of the post-transition years is inclusive and equitable, without exception. It is a chance for energy and prosperity go hand in hand.
In these transitional years, which could unfold over many decades, we must strive to pass policies and laws that ensure that everyone, from every corner of the planet, has a pin on the new energy map. We must ensure that climate-vulnerable communities on the frontlines of climate change have affordable access to electricity, clean water and food on the same terms as those in developed parts of the world. We must ensure that human dignity is woven into the fabric of sustainable development. Any future scenario other than this will be a great failure.
This is the feeling I am left with as the dust from the 12th session of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) General Assembly and Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week settles. The numerous dialogues I participated in throughout both season-opening events offered both a fresh sense of optimism that climate ambition is beginning to translate into action, as well as a healthy dose of outrage that more must be done, urgently.
For me, the theme that stood out among all others was the topic that will define the rest of the decade and beyond: how the race towards renewables in pursuit of tomorrow’s energy system will alter the geopolitical energy map and define the future of human dignity.
The more than 1,100 delegates from 137 countries who virtually attended the Irena Assembly had plenty to say on the topic, especially on how policies aimed at decarbonsation will reorder the world’s energy system, move us towards net zero in the name of climate action and, as a natural consequence, redefine the balance of power.
Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme, called for an enabling investment environment to push through pandemic recovery measures which requires national policies to be reviewed. Amina J Mohammed, the UN Deputy Secretary General, told members that we need decisive actions to close the energy access gap worldwide. And Egypt’s Minister of Electricity, Mohamed Shaker, called for a move to an implementation phase to improve access to electricity and energy efficiency across Africa and other parts of the world.
The message is clear: though the geopolitical energy map has been complicated by the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, it has not slowed the shifting geopolitical landscape as the energy transformation gathers momentum.
The same is addressed in a new joint report from the UAE and Irena, which was launched during the assembly. The report, titled Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor, confirms that the global energy transition will disrupt the current energy system on a grand scale, impacting the entire energy value chain along the way. It will challenge the resilience of economies and require decision makers to adapt. And international cooperation will be essential to effectively navigate the unknowns, mitigate risks and overcome geopolitical instability, the report points out.
In the same way that international collaboration helped global markets recover from the financial crisis of 2008 to 2009, today the international community must come together to overcome the climate crisis in an inclusive manner.
Ensuring that everyone has a seat at the new energy table means fostering an investment and education environment that allows countries to harness the vast, untapped and potential renewable energy sources to be found in their own backyards. And if we can do this, we will be making good on our commitments to put human dignity at the heart of sustainable development.
Indeed, when we look at the broad spectrum that the UN’s interlinked Sustainable Development Goals cover, many can be met through an equitable energy transition and a new era marked by affordable access to energy.
The raft of jobs and opportunities that will be created for young people as we pursue renewable energy pathways to a cleaner, greener future can empower the talent in developing economies with the tools and knowledge to unlock long-term prosperity.
To do this, education must be a global priority. Integrating renewable energy and sustainable development into national curriculums around the world will enable young people to one day lead their communities towards a brighter future.
And this notion is at the core of much of the work the UAE has done in recent years, alongside the international community. Because we recognise the importance of this moment. We recognise that, when it comes to a securing a fair future for all, we are all in this together. Because no one is safe until everyone is safe.