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Article   |   David Clark   |   05.01.2022

An overview of the panel discussion: Road to COP26: Outcomes of COP26

I joined professionals from the Energy Industry Council (EIC) and DNV on the panel discussion, 'Road to COP26: Outcomes of COP26', to consider the implications for the energy sector as a whole and considerations as we move forward. It was an engaging and interesting debate, with a number of key topics discussed.

COP26 could never offer a 'silver bullet' for change

The panel's consensus was that there is a gulf between the expectation and reality of what COP26 could achieve. While COP hadn't delivered as much 'aggressive change' as expected, challenges from the pandemic and associated economic issues meant the outcomes were likely to fall short.

Having governments and key players challenged with making strategic decisions to deliver climate action shows good momentum. Yet most commitments made at COP26 will have to be self-policed, as only a few countries are making their pledges legally binding. We noted that there is indeed a question mark hanging on this area and we need to turn debate from COP26 into explicit action.

Funding is vital - especially for developing nations

The poorest countries will need financial support to mitigate the effects of climate change, yet the panel felt that a trillion-dollar a year fund from 2025 might not be sufficient for the diverse challenges ahead.

A speaker from DNV suggested it was a drop in the ocean when 14 trillion was a suggested figure for recovery from the pandemic, indicating there remains a question around the appetite to get these funds to developing countries.

Governments must ensure they are driving forward technology for these developing nations. It is critical that they allow pilot projects to scale up quickly and give proof of concept, and to allow these to be replicated and deployed across multiple markets. In the UK and EU, we have shown just how effective we can be in implementing offshore and onshore wind - radically changing the cost base of energy deployment and it is this type of transition that we need to see across multiple geographic areas.

We need to consider which technologies are fit for purpose right now

When we look to developing countries that require scaling energy production and distribution, we shouldn't just assume there will be similarities with UK and EU infrastructure, as more types of generation and storage systems are available. When we look to deploy into rapidly industrialising countries, we need to consider the new technologies and be clear on unlocking energy solutions – and perhaps the answers will be wind, solar or geothermal.

However, these solutions need to be fit for short cycle peaks and baseload capabilities to cover periods where renewables are not delivering, taking learnings from the issues with reduced resources affecting solar and wind in Europe.

The other key area will be in grid infrastructure and the ability to have systems that can actively maintain the demand users have right now as well as future requirements.

The energy sector needs a shift of narrative

The panel referenced that we are at a 'crunch point' and we need a focus shift on building buy-in.

Both the EIC and DNV speakers felt that from a supply chain perspective, helping to facilitate buy-in has always been a political challenge and that it is now more than ever that we need 'bold politicians'.

I proposed that there will be significant developments in energy usage and distribution from every area - from transportation to domestic use. As a result, we will likely double our grid infrastructure twice over, which presents a major challenge in delivery, planning and management.

The Government will need to bring the debate forward to allow people to understand the energy transition targets do mean building - and this changes the landscape. Now is the time to accelerate our thinking and to get buy-in for these different areas.

Promisingly, the panel felt the appetite for climate change is there, yet we acknowledged that there is a bridge to cross between the younger, more engaged demographic and the current population, who may be a little more comfortable with the status quo.

Let’s start talking to the realities

The big news of COP26 was that financial organisations controlling $130tn agreed to back "clean" technology, such as renewable energy, and direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries.

As Vysus Group is involved in helping customers and oil and gas authorities in their thinking around strategies, one of the challenges I envision is addressing the realities for the immediate future of energy use.

Typically, oil and gas is seen as the 'bad guy in the room', so we have the challenge to rebuild trust and positivity in engaging with the public in this area. The reality is to build the infrastructure and keep the lights on; we will need hydrocarbons from oil and gas for many sectors for many more years to come, especially without energy storage to combat intermittency.

That doesn't mean we can't be working hard on the solutions for tomorrow, whether that's using decarbonised energy, or green or blue hydrogen. Still, we need to all be part of the journey to build a public understanding of the issue's complexity.

The time to act is now

In the way that ocean plastic pollution is visible, I reiterated that we are already seeing the effects of climate change worldwide. Many years ago, it was suggested we would 'witness the effects in decades', and that time has arrived.

At COP26, we saw encouraging steps and commitments from governments and those in the private sector, and to reach the goals proposed, we can no longer kick the can down the road. The deadline of 2030 for the pledges will be here in a blink of an eye. This is a wake up not just for the energy sector on how we generate, transport, store and use energy but a far broader discussion. It affects how we manufacture things, how we heat our homes and how we feed ourselves.

At Vysus Group, we believe that engineering solutions are more important than ever. Our focus following COP26 is to ensure that our clients make intelligent, effective decisions that improve operational performance, mitigate risk and overcome obstacles to unlock the next phase of energy transition.

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