Energy transition must not come at a cost to fragile societies

Excerpt from thenationalnews.com

Although the whole world now appears to be talking about “energy transitions”, the phrase is hardly news. It was first coined in 1977 when US President Jimmy Carter declared that the world needed “permanent renewable energy sources”. Yet, more than 40 years later, and despite investments of $300 billion or so every year over the last decade into renewables, we are concluding critical Cop26 meetings and entering the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (Adipec) as global greenhouse gas emissions reach an all-time high (at the first Cop in 1995 emissions were 40 per cent lower than today).

The first problem is that in all this time, policymakers have not fully recognised what the phrase truly means. A transition suggests that things are in motion, where we move from one state to another. Yet most policy today seems to be concerned with the starting point and the end goal; to replace the old with the new and to switch from a fossil-fuel world to net-zero one. When we think about problems in this reductionist way, we fall victim to what is known as our “gap instincts”, a tendency to think about issues as two distinct or even conflicting groups. To think about “us” and “them”, the “West” and the “Rest”, we create an imaginary gap that seems to make our problems impossible to overcome. When policymakers consider renewables and fossil fuels as warring factions, rather than part of our combined energy arsenal, this creates an impossible choice for emerging nations who often feel bullied into choosing between climate goals or growth.