The international community needs to undertake several critical steps to better cope with future global energy trends, a former U.S. diplomat and energy expert told an audience at The Fletcher School earlier this month.
Ambassador Richard H. Jones, who served as U.S. ambassador to several Middle Eastern countries and spent five years as the Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), presented the Charles Francis Adams Lecture, "Global Energy Challenges."
He spelled out four policy recommendations advocated by the IEA: implementing energy efficiency policies in selected areas like buildings and transport with particularly rapid payback periods; limiting the use of old, inefficient coal power plants; reducing methane emissions from oil production; and partially phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels.
According to Ambassador Jones, implementing these energy policies will require strong international leadership and engagement. "I am hopeful that (IEA's) quest for a secure and sustainable energy future for its Member countries will succeed,” he said. “However, in my view, this can only occur through mutually beneficial cooperation with other key members of the international community.”
Ambassador Jones, who left the IEA last September, emphasized that he was speaking in a personal capacity, but that his talk reflected his experiences at the agency and the growing scope of its agenda.
Drawing on policy recommendations from the IEA's “World Energy Outlook 2012” and other publications, the former diplomat stressed “the need for long-term and holistic approaches to satisfy future global energy needs.” His talk, which was cosponsored by the Fletcher Energy Club (FLEC), covered the changing patterns in energy supply and consumption and focused on the impact of additional gas production as well as the increasing competitiveness of renewable sources of energy and the need to increase investment in improving energy efficiency.
On a global scale, there has been a significant increase in the supply of fossil fuels with the expansion of oil and gas production in the U.S. and Iraq's potential as an emerging regional energy powerhouse in the Middle East.
However, it appears that growth in the demand for natural gas may be outpacing the growth in supply. Ambassador Jones explained that this discrepancy exists partly because of the slowdown in investment in the development of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
In renewable energy sectors, the IEA flagship report noted some promising progress — especially in emerging economies. “Electricity generation from wind and solar power is projected to increase by 40 percent in the next five years,” Ambassador Jones said. “China alone will account for a major proportion of this investment.”
According to the IEA, this positive trend towards clean energy can be attributed to two factors. First, higher investment in emerging markets and increasing electricity demands have caused a geographic spread of renewable power, and second, renewable technologies are becoming cheaper and more cost competitive.
Renewable technologies are becoming “more socially accepted,” the former diplomat explained. “The threat of climate change has not disappeared and requires adaption in the energy sector.”
Ambassador Jones foreshadowed how the energy industry would not be immune from the physical impact of climate change. “This impact goes beyond the well known disruption of coastal and offshore production of oil and gas by increasingly powerful storms,” he explained. “In addition, rising air temperatures, droughts and other adverse effects could potentially shut down electricity generating power plants.
Jones recommended greater global focus on reducing carbon emissions to address the issue of climate change. Although there has been progress in the areas of renewable electricity generation and hybrid vehicles, there is still room for improvement in other sectors such as fuel efficiency, smart grids and biofuels, he added.
As for overarching policy recommendations, the diplomat reiterated the need for a multifaceted approach to satisfy global energy demand as well as to ensure sustainability.
-- Elissar Harati, MALD 2014 candidate; Photographer: Tommy Galloway, MALD 2014 candidate