Amid record-breaking profits, is ‘Big Energy’ investing enough in sustainable alternatives?

20/12/2022 by Ali Sajwani

Globally, we live in troubling times. We’ve all seen the news reports of energy companies making record profits, while consumers see energy prices rising and are having to make some stark choices between turning the heating up or eating. 

In this region, we are blessed with wise governance that, while still ensuring the world receives the energy it needs, is striving to achieve lower carbon emissions and move towards greener, more sustainable fuels. 

As the world seeks to accelerate progress on climate goals – and it must – policymakers are realising that progress of any kind simply won’t happen without addressing the so-called ‘trilemma’ of energy security, affordability, and sustainability.

ADNOC, our national energy company, is one of the world’s largest oil producers but has carved a reputation for several bold, sustainable steps, including switching its operations power supply to zero carbon nuclear and solar power. Electrifying its oil rigs and other offshore operations has cut ADNOC’s carbon footprint in half.

But the fact remains that the world population will hit 9.7 billion people by 2050, and to meet the needs of a growing population, the energy industry must produce at least 30 percent more energy than it does today.

To meet that energy need, the big energy companies must:

Work together with partnerships in government, private sector and academia

The road to Net Zero – or in this case, transition to clean energy – involves effort on a grand scale and investment in the trillions. It is not something any one nation or one entity can achieve alone. In 2020, for example, the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) estimated it will cost $1-2 trillion per year of additional global investments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Partnerships ensure shared knowledge, shared resources, and a coming together to work for the greater good. Perhaps we will see the big energy firms – much maligned for their recent vast profits – forming a group akin to OPEC to ensure the net zero goals and clean energy transition are achieved. 

It’s worth noting that the UAE’s ADIPEC energy summit is a perfect place for such partnerships to be discussed and developed, and the COP climate summits – the next edition of which is, of course, set to be held right here in the UAE. 

Reassure their publics that they are indeed investing in sustainable fuels

We all know that traditional ‘fossil fuels’ such as oil and gas are damaging. But the industry is taking giant leaps towards reducing impact and emissions while ensuring global energy needs are met. 

The World Economic Forum makes it clear that switching to wind, water and solar-powered energy sources by 2050 will slow and then reverse the effects of global warming and stabilise the global energy sector.

In short, the largest energy companies are acutely aware of the urgent need to increase the scale and speed at which they transition to sustainable fuels. As you might imagine, it’s a transition mired in multiple complexities, encompassing regulation, investment, upskilling, and advanced technology, not to mention the growing need to pay more than lip service to the UN sustainable development goals. 

To take ADNOC as a positive example, at the recent ADIPEC oil and gas summit, the energy giant announced plans to further decrease its greenhouse gas emissions, aiming for a methane intensity target of 0.15% by 2025, strengthening its position as one of the least carbon-intensive oil and gas companies in the world. 

Share the profits of energy production with those nations – such as Small Island Developing States – that need help in securing sustainable energy supplies – and increased energy security. 

A final but important point is that the new energy era must include access to energy for all. It has been highlighted that developed nations are calling for costly, time-consuming emission reduction schemes, while small nations still struggle to achieve universal access to energy. This global inequality must be addressed in the new energy era. It’s gratifying to see how organisations such as the Zayed Sustainability Prize are working to award funding to hyper-local projects, from solar power to food production. Also, the new drive towards honesty, transparency and adherence to ESG goals is bringing attention to the need for greater corporate social responsibility. 

The nub of the problem, of course, is that we all need and use energy. The problem is our problem. But do we know – or even care – where our energy comes from? We should. We have the power to vote with our wallets, switch suppliers, generate our own supplies (through solar panels on the roof of our homes, for example) and ultimately, ensure Big Energy is accountable and transparent.

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