Four experts exchanged perspectives on how to tackle the energy sector and its 40 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
Emi Bartoli, Golnoosh Mir Moghtadaei and Maria Krasinski at the third meeting of Ecologues, 30 March 2023 (Photo: Emilie Biggs, American Library in Paris).
Volatile gas and electricity prices, accelerating energy diversification, the transition from fossil fuels to zero-carbon: energy is at the heart of the climate challenge. How will we address this crisis and who are the change-makers who will lead the way?
These questions and more were explored during the third Ecologues meeting on Thursday, 30 March at the American Library in Paris and online, presented by News Decoder, the Climate Academy and the American Library in Paris.
The transition to renewable sources of energy
Andreas Rüdinger, coordinator of energy transition in France at IDDRI, a sustainable development think tank, explained that the energy crisis started before the war in Ukraine. The Covid-19 pandemic created tensions between supply and demand of natural gas, contributing to a surge in prices.
“The tensions were of course exacerbated by the war on Ukraine with Russia representing 40% of total gas imports to Europe,” Rüdinger said.
With accelerating climate change and Europe’s — and the world’s — dependence on fossil fuels, it would seem that the crisis would be a huge push for energy transition. But in times of crisis, governments focus on providing immediate relief, rather than investing in the future transition.
In France, “we did not get one additional euro to invest in the energy transition,” Rüdinger said.
Nevertheless, the crisis made us realize how important the energy transition is if we are to become more resilient to future crises. “If France had achieved its energy efficiency targets set in 2008, it would actually no longer be dependent on Russian gas since 2020,” Rüdinger said.
Energy innovation and education
Golnoosh Mir Moghtadaei, an engineer from Enertime and representative for YES-Europe, a youth-led sustainability organization, gave two examples of energy efficiency innovations addressing the industry heat waste: Organic Rankine Cycle systems and high-temperature heat pumps.
Both use enormous amounts of waste heat to produce electricity.
“Innovation would require enormous work,” Mir Moghtadaei said. “It would require researchers, industries, corporates, investors, policy makers and social acceptance. Explaining all this [to people] is no easy task. You need to make them understand that decarbonising the industry is a necessity.”
To accept innovations we need to understand the harm we inflict on the Earth. But besides researchers, engineers and policymakers, how can young people address this issue?
“Be a part of a community, be a part of something bigger than yourself,” Mir Moghtadaei said. “Any of us can start a community, or a project or an organization. It’s just about motivation.”
Digitalising the energy sector
Emi Bertoli is an analyst with the International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises governments around the world and collects data to provide evidence and recommendations on energy policy.
Bartoli shared data provided by the IEA, showing that in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030, renewable energy capacity must increase four-fold, the share of electric vehicles must increase 18-fold and energy intensity must decrease 4% per year.
One way to achieve this transformation is through digitalising the energy landscape.
“When it comes to digitalisation, there’s not that much going on out there,” Bartoli said. “But digitalisation could help speed up and ameliorate the transition to renewables and enhance energy efficiency. It is not enough to reduce our energy consumption. It is key to reduce it when and where it is needed.”
Politics and policies impact climate action.
Tom Burke’s goal is to translate climate politics, economics and policies into action. As chairman and co-founder of E3G, a climate change think tank, he does exactly that, strategizing on the political economy of climate change.
“What we have to do is really clear,” Burke said. “We also know exactly what will be required to have climate policy success: we have to stop burning fossil fuels by the middle of the century. And we have to do that in an affordable and secure way.”
But if we know what to do, why aren’t we doing it? Where are the obstacles?
In Burke’s view they do not come from economics or technology, but politics. If we were to point fingers, he said, the two culprits close enough to politicians and governments are fossil fuel companies, who obviously do not want to be replaced by innovators, and ideology.
“An ideology that says you want a smaller state, less government, lighter taxes, lighter regulations is not gonna help us,” Burke said. Instead, the most important action of all is for young people to vote.
“Otherwise, Boomers like me are not going to leave you a planet you’re gonna want to live on,” he said.
The full webinar recording is available here.
The next Ecologues meeting takes place Thursday, 27 April 2023 on “The Food Question” with speakers George Monbiot (columnist, filmmaker, essayist and author of Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet), Sébastien Treyer (Executive Director of sustainability think tank IDDRI) and Emma Heiling (CEO and Founder of ClimaTalk, a youth-led nonprofit demystifying climate policy).
Three questions to consider:
- What are the keys to decarbonising the energy sector?
- What role can young people play in the energy transition?
- What is stopping us from implementing major changes to mitigate climate change?
Karolina Krakowiak is News Decoder’s Project Management Intern for The Writing’s on the Wall. Leaving engineering behind and following her passion, Karo decided to move to Paris and pursue a Master’s degree in International Management and Sustainability at the American University in Paris. Both in her professional and private life, she prioritizes nature, kindness and mindfulness.