I just returned from a trip to two of this year’s most important energy and climate conferences. In Houston, CERAWeek brought together leaders from the energy industry, civil society, academia, and government from around the world to discuss the major issues facing the sector. And in Miami, leaders from the environmental, business and policy communities convened at Aspen Ideas: Climate for solutions-oriented conversations about the climate crisis.
Energy security and reliability of supply reemerged as top agenda items for many of those attending CERAWeek. The prospect of fuel shortages has loomed over much of the world since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and representatives of the oil and gas industry highlighted the pivotal role their companies played in helping Europe fill the gap left by the loss of Russian energy. Secretary Granholm echoed this sentiment in her remarks, saying, “The US has become an indispensable partner to our allies, and a global energy powerhouse.”
Speakers at the conference also discussed the oil and gas sector’s role in the energy transition, noting that many of the same strengths that allow companies to excel in oil and gas production—engineering prowess, knowledge of geology and the sub-surface, project management skills—translate well to clean energy solutions such as carbon capture, geothermal and low-carbon fuels. Moreover, even in a world on track for net zero (which is not the case today), society will still be using fossil fuels decades into the future. Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, for example, “Natural gas is not here for five more years. It’s here for 50 more years.”
Given today’s energy crisis and need to meet today’s energy needs securely and affordably, I heard much discussion of the need to be more “realistic and balanced” about the energy transition. That is true if realism means acknowledging how significant the energy needs of the developing world are. It’s also true if it means that myriad clean energy solutions are needed, or that we must synchronize declines in oil supply with declines in demand. Yet too often, I heard “realistic” used to mean that we need to grow not only clean energy but also oil and gas.
While it is true that a net-zero world will still need a lot of oil and gas, any future in which society meets its climate goals is one in which we use far less fossil fuels than today, as I told Semafor’s Tim McDonnell. Replacing fossil fuels with carbon-free energy sources is an essential part of the energy transition, along with carbon management to address emissions from continued fossil fuel use. As I wrote in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, this need not come at the expense of economic growth and energy affordability.
For this reason, I was excited to witness the enthusiasm surrounding “Innovation Agora,” a sub-conference within CERAWeek devoted to new energy technologies. It has grown dramatically year after year, and there was an enormous number of clean energy executives and investors in Houston. Business leaders there spoke excitedly about a new era for clean energy, animated by funding opportunities in the Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA has injected a welcome surge of funding into the American clean energy sector and offers incentives for low-carbon technologies ranging from those commercially available, such as wind and solar, to those still in the demonstration stage, such as hydrogen and carbon. While the legislation will require careful implementation to reach its full potential, the optimism from those in the industry was palpable.
This optimism about climate action was also on display at the Aspen Ideas: Climate conference, albeit paired with a heightened sense of urgency about the trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions. Despite tremendous progress in clean energy deployment, global emissions continue to grow every year except in cases of pandemic or recession, driven now (not historically) by rapid emissions growth in developing and emerging economies. That’s why I was excited to co-chair a roundtable discussion with activists, government officials, and business leaders on scaling up clean energy financing in Africa—and why we have prioritized this work in our new Energy Opportunity Lab at the Center on Global Energy Policy.
Throughout the week, I was proud of the unique role CGEP was able to play in bringing together experts from disparate backgrounds. In our fireside chat at the closing plenary of Aspen Ideas: Climate, Cipher’s Amy Harder asked the audience how many of them had heard of CERAWeek, and very few hands went up. Conversations about energy and climate, both so deeply intertwined, too often occur in siloes. At CGEP, we work hard to engage deeply and substantively in all aspects of energy and climate change, and bring these threads together to find actionable solutions to our energy challenges—economically, geopolitically, and environmentally. Cross-sector collaboration is vital for meeting the pressing challenges facing the energy system, and CGEP will continue to foster such collaboration in the months and years ahead.