In recent decades, there has been a development of several related concepts, some under the category of thermodynamics, which may be applied, to some degree, to the current geopolitical scene.
One is the perception of organization in this universe as ordered energy flows. This perspective can be characterized as ‘‘non equilibrium thermodynamics”. Probably the foremost and broadest scale explicant of this way of looking at the universe is cosmologist Eric Chaisson, now at Harvard. One of his signature books is ‘Cosmic Evolution’ .
Chaisson quantifies energy flows, and relates them to structures, at stellar, galactic, planetary, and even life levels. He relates complexity, at each of these levels, to ‘energy rate densities’. Somewhat surprisingly, he points out that energy rate densities in life forms exceeds those of cosmic structures such as suns. He also identifies energy rate densities of different types of life organization, such as plants and animals, and even the structure of industrial human activities, such as cities, airplanes, etc.
On separate but related themes, explorations of concepts such as ‘hierarchy theory’ and ‘emergence’ have shown that all structures at the scale humans perceive are in a sense hierarchic. Simple atoms make up complex, heavy atoms, atoms make up complex elements often described as molecules and chemical species, molecular structures make up, or are involved in, life structures, single cells make up multicellular organisms, both single cells, at their level, and multicellular organisations make up what we tend to call social systems, and so forth. (e.g. in currently visible human terms, cities are clumped in States, or provinces, states in an United States, ‘nation states’ around the world in the United Nations; or at lower levels franchisees under franchisors, etc,) In this framework, each level of aggregation is seen as a system of relationships, and a differentiated unit at that level joins with other elements, or systems, in a set of stabilized relationships to form the next level of hierarchy.
All these ordered systems involve — or more accurately consist of — stabilized energy flows, or, equivalently, stable systems of relationships, in energy flows. A condensed public summary of this perspective, with citations, is available.
Insights which arise in this perspective include that all organization is combinatorial — combinations of elements. Relatedly, ‘emergent’ effects of any combination of elements upon other combinations which it encounters are the effects of the organization as a whole as distinguished from the effects of its components might have were they not bound in their particular organization. That is, all organized systems are identified and in effect measured, or given meaning, by other systems in terms of the relationships system-to-system, so to speak.
This is an highly condensed overview, but one can get further, and somewhat complementary, clues concerning the stream of thought by looking at some of the work involved in the International Big History Association, including some of its leading members such as Fred Spier and David Christian. This Association traces cosmic evolution from its origins through human historical processes, in a variety of ways and from a variety of perspectives. The Association is recently formed, and its work is evolving in form and content.
Another architectural insight has been offered by Mark Buchanan, in his book ‘Ubiquity’ , to the effect that, as far as he could identify, all phenomena seemed to fall on ‘power law’, or log normal, statistical distributions — wars, city sizes, wealth distributions, earthquakes, etc. This author has suggested that this is because all ordered phenomena consist of, or arise from, correlational processes, and such correlational processes produce this sort of statistical distribution.
Lastly, for initial introduction, a set of theories, or concepts, called ‘maximum entropy production’ (MEP) suggests, in general layman’s conceptualization, that given a differential (e.g. heat, or temperature, differential), it will be dissipated by all available means, and at situation-quantifiable rates, with common statistical signatures.
Now to human societies, and the relationships between them. Each society is a group, and a group of groups. For each of these groups to have sustained coherence, its constituents must have stable inter-se relationships, or systems of relationships. But for any given group or set of groups to coexist with others, rather than devouring or being devoured by others, they must work out modi vivendi, so to speak. They must somehow establish complementarities, or symbiotic relationships, or at least non-lethal sets of relationships. Each and all must have an energy basis — a flow of energy into and through the stable system of relationships.
In large scale agricultural society examples, all ‘empires’ are hierarchic, in the sense of being made up by a coordinating mechanism which maintains relationships between component elements.
In analysing any given society, or set of them, we have to follow the energy flows. Karl Marx’s thesis that societies are structured by their means of production translates into the view that any given society, or set of them, will have institutions (regular patterns of activity embodying energy flows) which feed off of, embody and maintain the energetics of the system.
‘Agricultural’ societies can be seen as group-organized means of harvesting the photosynthetic capture of energy by plants, plus the energy of other-animal harvesters of the plants (‘livestock’). ‘Industrial’ societies maintain the plant and animal harvesting base, but have taken flight, so to speak, by capturing stored and concentrated energy of the residues of past eons of plant life on earth.
Since this cache of stored plant energy is finite and its boundaries are visible, it increasingly appears that if the multibillion human complex thus created is to be maintained in some form, over decades and centuries, humans will have to move to reliance on artifactual photosynthesis (AKA ’solar energy’), supplemented by wind energy, tapping the energy of breakdowns of heavy, complex atoms (nuclear energy), and perhaps some trace additions of current and earth-stored biological photosynthesis. Perhaps the best references for the data and analysis underlying this perspective are an international review of renewable energy sources, and a conceptually elegant report by Sandia Laboratory personnel.
We currently tend to call this a ‘renewable’ energy society. But it can be seen as a larger scale, current technological, or artifactual, or human-mediated, direct harvesting of sunlight, bypassing the biological processes of other organisms, past and present. In addition there seems a likelihood of harvesting of the differentials created by differentials in sunlight on the Earth’s surface (wind energy), with limited additional sourcing.
We tend to think of this all as a human created and engineered mastering of energy flows. But let us try to look at it from the Universe’s point of view, were the Universe to bother itself, apart from creating ourselves, to have one. From a thermodynamics perspective, from Chaisson on down, one can consider that life itself was created as a means of channelling energy flows to reducing differentials caused by universal ordering, as proposed by Santa Fe Institute researchers. Derivatively, all our institutions, being driven by energy differentials and flows, and ourselves, can be seen as expressions of thermodynamic forces. We are, from such a point of view, but the enablers of Chaisson’s energy density rate functions.
Lest this expression be interpreted as a whimsy to attract attention, I will use it to make suggestions about how current and future societies may tend to work out.
Let us consider the turbulent Middle East. Also we can consider the Soviet Union, and nearby Euro-asian areas.
Assuming no system-wide catastrophic breakdown, the stored plant energy potentials of these areas have been and will continue to be tapped. Pipelines will be built. Streams of oil tankers will continue.
This does not mean that there will not be intrastate and interstate maneuvering about where, when, and at what rate. Water flows downhill. But humans make dams, channels, irrigation projects, etc. And we humans do a lot of squabbling about how to create and divide up participation in reservoirs and flow systems over and outside political boundaries. Elinor Ostrom was given a Nobel prize for her careful and extensive work on how such situations, particularly those involving economic ‘commons’, have been successfully managed. Her prescriptions are worth careful attention.
The fractured and fractious political organizations of the Persian Gulf area have been, to some extent, and are likely gradually to be shaped to allow these energy concentrations to be distributed, or, to use MEP logic, dissipated. If democracies cannot reliably be constructed, autocracies and dynasties will have to conform themselves to these requirements. If they cannot do so, then possibly ‘trusteeships’ might be constructed by the world’s hydrocarbon thirsty and consuming polities. The political entities in the area will be monitored for efficiency and stability. This may lead to assistance, if possible; reshaping if necessary: both from outside their boundaries, and, possibly to a lesser degree, from within.
Though thinly populated in many of its parts, Russia will, from its vast and central position on the Eurasian land mass, continue to feed gas into the highly organized energy transformation and use systems of Europe, and perhaps also China. It will also continue to be a source of other resources. (There may be some question whether the Easternmost portion of Russia remains European oriented, or becomes Sinified to such an extent as to lead to rearrangement of the State identification and administration.)
Around the globe the hydrocarbon potentials available from fracturing rocks will also continue to be developed, geographically unevenly but widely, on and adjacent to several continents. The phasing will be partially gated over time by relative efficiencies as between the hydrocarbon pools of the Middle East, Venezuela, and Canada, and ‘shale’ systems elsewhere. And the extent and rate of rock mining for hydrocarbons may be affected by the efficiencies of emerging photovoltaics based energy systems. But the techniques and tools are in hand, so to speak, in use, and expansible at current and sufficiently rewarded EROEI (energy return on energy investment) ratios.
Two factors seem likely to limit, or boundary, these extractions from the energy concentrations of life’s past, other than exhaustion. One is the possibility that the atmospheric temperature effects of the gaseous emissions from freeing up all these hydrocarbons — particularly carbon dioxide — will so disrupt the organic processes of current life as to arrest the whole process. The other is, as noted, the apparent potential of tapping the vastly larger solar energy flux of Earth to entrain larger energy flows with lesser disruption of current life patterns.
The first potential limitation has engendered much attention, but limited current effect, other than to lead to some effort to manage replacement of hydrocarbon mining by tapping the global solar energy flux — ‘renewable energy’ technologies, including the ancillary and necessary technologies to make solar energy universal, convenient, and supportive of at least the current level of human activity.
Efforts to coordinate limitations on ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions may slow the rate of increase, but seem far short of capping or reducing such emissions in immediately upcoming decades.
The salient geopolitical consequences of this projected transition to artifactual solar energy are interesting in a number of respects, prominently two.
First, artifactual solar energy capture, like biological, is inherently geographically extensive. The capture systems may be on the whole more southerly (take note, Northern Europe), and less co-located with water (but still dependent on some water to keep the needed biological support mechanisms in place). Whether this leads to massive territory wars like those of the agricultural era remains to be seen. We had best hope not, and strive to avoid them, for urgent reason.
The scope, efficiency and sustainability of this artifactual photosynthetic system seems likely to depend upon a complex web of interconnected resource, processing, and exchange systems implemented by humans, as distinguished from self sustaining (if we do not too much interfere) plants, ocean oxygen emitters, and generally the vast web of biological processes which we call Nature. The combinatorics of this system, globally employed, will be complex, subtle and demanding — of us.
In other words, whatever the array of geographically defined governance systems, if the systems for replacement of ‘fossil’ energy support for humans are to be realized, humans are going to have to construct and durably maintain large, and probably at best global, cooperation systems.
We may characterize these systems in economic, social, institutional, and other terms. But if we are going to get, for example, silicon, lithium, iron, copper, aluminum, etc. from where they are first found, and do all the intricate dances of transporting them, cunningly shaping them into microscopically toleranced formats, in large volume and at large scale, covering them with sand made into glass (or not), and have them harvest energy for decades, we have to have sophisticated coordinating mechanisms (including markets, and thus also including financial markets). And if humans seek a sustainable future of abundance of the sort many humans now enjoy, we can’t be blundering about periodically, or widely, destroying parts of such interconnected systems at will or impulse (read, if you wish, ISIL).
Lastly, for the moment, the imperative for hierarchical construction suggests that central coordinating functions, like those now embodied by the United Nations, will continue to evolve.
I have suggested that the above general directions, or tendencies, emerge from a consideration of order building, non equilibrium thermodynamic forces. However, I cannot assure my fellow humans that life on Earth, and our human part of it, must necessarily realize all the potentials one can envisage. Life, and order building in it, works in probabilistic increments. Over several billions of years, Earthlife has advanced as a whole in mass and complexity, it now appears, but also suffered some catastrophic setbacks in the process.
Whether our species of language and tool wielding ape will be able to achieve and maintain — over centuries — global integration at high levels of energy-fed activity, with current or better levels of individual welfare, is thus very much an open question. We have no good reason to think that an Abrahamic God, or other general Universal Governor, has decreed success for our hopeful projections of organizational potentials of human life on this Earth at this time. We are on our own, in an evolutionary adventure. In Star Wars terms, the force(s) may be with us, but guarantees are not on order.
This leads to questions about what those concerned with ‘diplomacy’, or forms of facilitating international concert, may need to focus on in order to foster the needed, but far from guaranteed, international coherence. Modern Diplomacy, as a publication, is oriented to this topic.
In a prior post in another publication, I attempted an outline of some major themes, or focal points. In very brief summary, I suggested that we be aware of the central importance of energy flows and hierarchical ordering tendencies, mentioned here, that participants will be required to focus on arrangements which yield sustained mutual benefit to the participating parties (in current parlance, ‘win-win’ solutions), that there need to be monitoring of and controls on parasitism of the coordinated system by the coordinators, or ‘elites’ in the systems, that sound, objective knowledge systems of the sort developed in the sciences, and published through ‘free speech’ and ‘free presses’, be maintained, and that there is a need for continuity in systems (as massive breakdowns in an highly industrialized world may be very difficult, if not impossible, fully to repair).
Some of these suggestions relate to a need to prevent ossified, myopic national and international structures evolving, milked unproductively by national and international elites, stifling the growth potentials of the global human (and life) community.
I also pointed out that however much we wish completely to equalize welfare results for all participants globally, the prevalence of ‘power laws’ in the Universe counsels that we will never be able to do so. The operational possibility to be sought is that the various elements of the system be better off than if there were no system. (The philosopher John Rawls addressed this criterion in a way when he suggested that one approve or disapprove of a given system as if one did not know where one would fit in it.) A refinement of this concept is that an optimal system is one in which no one can be made more well off without making someone else less well off. But this logic does not, strictly, imply that in all circumstances complete equality applies as to all system participants.
On the global scene, both State and non-state actors seek to encourage successful and sustainable global integration. Some current organizations target selected international objectives from time to time, such as, but not limited to, Citizens for Global Solutions, and other organizations seek to create a global ‘parliament’ to parallel and inform the United Nations, promote a global ‘rule of law’ at the UN level and non governmental organization level, promote economic freedom, protect human rights, as by indexing State performance in human rights protection, and inhibit corruption in various polities by indexing State success in doing so. This is only a very limited sketch of such organizations. Please feel free to point up others in any comments on this essay.
The concepts I suggest here provide some support for the specifics of such efforts. Given my background as an attorney, I suggest that the ‘rule of law’ can be justified as an universal requirement by appeal to the basic nature of ordered processes — that is, that there be regularity and thus predictability in component processes — and the requirement that participating elements, such as ‘elites’, do not advantage themselves at the expense of the regularity and efficiency of the whole (the generic word for this is ‘corruption’). This basis goes deeper than others conventionally offered.
I would also note that ‘human rights’ activities can be justified, perhaps somewhat undramatically and colorlessly, by the requirement that participating human elements in social groups, such as States, be accorded those nutrients and potentials for action which allow them to function with some equilibrium and effect.
How well are such efforts succeeding? In the IA Forum piece, this author, perhaps parochially, attempted to rate the performance of his own native country, the United States, in meeting these criteria,, or requirements. Readers of this article are invited to correct this rating, and self-evaluate the conformance of their own polities by these criteria, if so inclined.
The effort reflected in this paper to to re-conceptualize some of traditional ‘statecraft’ has resulted in a limited and general set of suggested approaches. Broader efforts can be undertaken. Having had some connection with the US State Department and its education program for its foreign service officers, this author has proposed that such institutions might consider fostering research organizations (in a loose parallel to the US Defense Department’s DARPA) to probe analytically the theoretical and practical underpinnings of State construction and interaction.
The Potential of Palestinian Gas and the Role of Regional Powers: From Promise to Action
Recent progress on the Gaza marine gas field’s development is positive news and highlights the potential for mutually beneficial agreements in the East Mediterranean. The preliminary approval by Israel of the Palestinian field’s development and exploitation is outcome of mediation efforts exerted by Egypt and Jordan that aimed at de-escalation of tensions and building bridges between Palestinians and Israelis. The benefits of the Palestinian field’s development are multifold and range from advancing energy security in Gaza and providing a substantial windfall for the Palestinian economy to improving Israel’s regional standing and attracting investment for the execution of infrastructure projects within the region.
Strained political relations between Israelis and Palestinians, sporadic Israeli support, concerns that revenues would be used to fund terrorism, and low gas prices have been prime reasons that impeded development of the 23-year-old Gaza marine gas field project. The war on Ukraine and the subsequent global energy crisis, as well as the Israel-Lebanon maritime delimitation agreement brought the Gaza marine gas field project to the forefront and accelerated mediation efforts that led to the preliminary approval by Israel for its development. In case a final agreement is reached, the field that contains 1 trillion cubic feet of gas is expected to generate revenues worth approximately $2.5 billion over its 15-year life span.
The Spirit of the Preliminary Deal
According to the preliminary deal, Egypt’s Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) will develop the field and related infrastructure in pursuance with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2021 between the Egyptian state-owned company and the field’s partners namely, the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) and Consolidated Constructors Company (CCC). The MoU foresees the transportation of Palestinian gas through a 40-mile pipeline to Egyptian LNG facilities for liquefaction and consumption by the Palestinians, Egypt, and third markets. Development of the field is expected to proceed in three phases: Phase 1 involves extraction of gas from Gaza marine-1, Phase 2 involves construction of the pipeline, and Phase 3 involves the development of Gaza marine-2, a second well closer to Egypt.
The Palestinian Authority will receive gas revenues and the final agreement is expected to be strictly limited in scope prioritizing the exploitation of Gazan gas and leaving outside the issue of recognition between Israel and Hamas. The latter’s tacit approval of the Gaza marine gas field’s development is allegedly outcome of extensive discussions among security officials that favored an Egyptian offer of an economic incentives’ package to Hamas in exchange for a long-term truce (hudna) with Israel. The conversion of the diesel-based Gaza Power Plant to operate on gas produced by the Gaza marine field holds a prime position in the economic incentives’ package. Improvement of living conditions in Gaza for its 2.3 million population is expected to politically benefit Hamas as currently Palestinians experience regular power shortages. In practical terms, Palestinians in Gaza receive an average of 10 hours of electricity per day according to data released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Overall, development of the Gaza marine gas field would provide Palestinians a domestic low-cost energy source, generate revenues for the Palestinian Authority and help Palestinians transition from diesel toward less carbon-intense fuels.
Palestinian Popular Perceptions
Public perceptions in Gaza have been affected by press reports on American mediation efforts for a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel on the precondition that certain concessions are given to the Palestinians. Specifically, majority of the Palestinian public in Gaza and the West Bank maintains that the approval by the most right-wing Israeli government to date for the Gaza marine gas field’s development has been part and parcel of the discussions underway for the oncoming Saudi-Israeli normalization.
An opinion poll released on September 13, 2023, by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) reflects this trend. 29 percent in Gaza believes that an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel to normalize relations could improve the chances for reaching Palestinian-Israeli peace. Related to this perception and taking into consideration that 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, Gazans view more positively than the West Bankers the Oslo Agreement. As cited in the PCPSR poll, 40 percent of Gazans oppose the abandonment of the Oslo Accords by the Palestinian Authority.
When it comes to Palestinian popular perceptions on the development of the Gaza marine gas field, these are reportedly divided between optimists and pessimists. According to the first group, the field’s development would give a positive shock to the Gazan economy by means of job creation and full payment of salaries for public sector employees. As known, the Palestinian Authority currently withholds monthly salaries of public employees by almost 25 percent. Optimists also expect that gas prices will lower thus lifting much of the economic burden on households. At the political level, optimists support that the advancement of the Palestinian economy could pave the way for intra-Palestinian reconciliation between rival political leaders.
Pessimists, on the other hand, argue that economic benefits will be minimal as tax on Gazan gas is expected to be imposed simultaneously by Hamas, Israel, and Egypt thus minimizing prospects of low energy cost and improved living conditions. In addition, they advocate that the gap between Palestinian factions will widen rather than reconcile. To this end, pessimists cite the failure of Palestinian factions’ leadership to reconcile during the recent Egyptian Summit of El-Alamein.
Egypt’s Multileveled Mediation
Egypt has been well positioned to broker negotiations between Hamas and Israel, while Jordan used its political leverage over the Palestinian Authority and hosted a meeting to ensure that discussions continued unabated. In fact, Egypt and Jordan have been third parties in the Palestinian-Israeli meetings held in Aqaba and Sharm Al-Sheikh where the development of the Gaza marine gas field was at the heart of discussions, and a roadmap was put forward for de-escalation of tensions in Gaza.
The economic and regional benefits that Egypt will get from the Palestinian-Israeli agreement on the Gaza marine gas field’s development have been key to the success of Egyptian mediation. Despite the unchanged nature of Egypt’s cold peace with Israel, Egypt has appeared decisive to help Israelis and Palestinians pitch a vision to create shared solutions on energy challenges and opportunities with the Gaza marine gas field at the epicenter.
As per the terms of the preliminary agreement, Egyptian state-owned EGAS will take over development operations of the Gaza marine gas field and secure financing for the overall project. Financing constitutes a crucial element for the project’s development and requires political risk insurance as well as certain payment guarantees initially provided by EGAS and at a later stage by financial institutions.
Related development plans, that are likely incorporated in the economic incentives’ package offered to Hamas during discussions in exchange for long-term truce, include the construction of a new port to improve living conditions in Gaza. These plans foresee, among other options, either the construction of an Egyptian port in El-Arish so that cargoes are transported to Gaza through Kerem Shalom border crossing at the junction of Gaza, Israel and Egypt, or the construction of a Palestinian port on the Egyptian part of Gaza’s south border. Both options entail a leading Egyptian role that centers on investing in critical infrastructure to support the Gazan economy.
At the regional level, Egyptian successful mediation has enhanced Cairo’s leadership role with an emphasis on geoeconomics. In fact, Egypt seeks to pursue its strategic objectives in the region through attraction of economic inflows to enhance its national security and through creation of economic interdependencies balancing between competition and cooperation among geopolitical rivals. The Gaza marine gas field development falls under the category of projects that can cement regional economic interdependencies through a right balance between security considerations and economic cooperation.
The Art of Jordan’s Shuttle Diplomacy
It is upon this regional logic that Jordan used existing partnerships to prepare the ground for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks with initial focus narrowly on the development of the energy-related project in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority’s empowerment. Jordan’s status as an important regional player and mediator between interested parties has been enhanced as a long-awaited win-win initiative has been finally got back to track.
Jordan stands to benefit from the development of the Gaza marine gas field that can be leveraged to create interdependencies. Jordanian state-owned National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) signed in 2015 a Letter of Intent (LoI) with then operator of the Gaza marine field for the supply of approximately 180 million cubic feet (mcf) of gas per day from the Gaza marine field to Jordan. Despite that the LoI is not technically doable at this point due to lack of proper pipeline network, Jordan’s political commitment is timeless.
Development of a regional energy and transportation infrastructure can pave the way for the promotion of quadripartite trade between Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, and Israel. For example, a “water-energy nexus” in a project where solar can be used to generate energy, which would in turn power desalination plants and generate shared drinking water can prove multiply beneficial. As the Jordanian public is averse to importing Israeli gas, converting it into water could scour the stigma not only facilitating trade but also delivering dividends of peace in the form of shared resources.
An additional project that can enhance interdependencies and complementarities is the proposed development of a monorail that would carry hundreds of containers per day from the Israeli port of Haifa to the Jordanian land port of Haditha thus improving trade and supply chain operations for Palestine, Israel, and Gulf countries. There are certain political roadblocks, however, that must be overcome such as the need to achieve equal access for Israelis and Palestinians, and the consent of Egypt due to the project’s likely impact on the Suez Canal’s traffic.
Jordan stands to benefit from development of gas discoveries offshore Gaza. Aqaba’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal has the potential to become a second regional energy hub. Out of various options, Palestinian gas can be directed to Egyptian liquefaction plants and onward to Jordan, where it could be piped via the Arab Gas Pipeline to Syria, and Lebanon. This scheme would help diversify the region’s energy suppliers and routes. It would also advance Jordan’s energy diversification efforts, which include the import of gas primarily from Egypt, the further development of domestic fields like the Risha gas field, construction of a dual oil and gas pipeline from Iraq, and acceleration of the shift toward renewables.
A Final Note
Unquestionably, energy cooperation and the related economic development along with security considerations were key components that led to the preliminary Palestinian-Israeli agreement on the development of the Gaza marine gas field, with Hamas at the backyard. Considering its promising economic, security, and diplomatic benefits for Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, it has become more than evident that the Gaza marine gas development project must be implemented swiftly. Simply put, a “win-win” enterprise seems to be on the regional horizon!
5 ways to power the energy transition
Transitioning to renewable energy is the key to securing humanity’s survival, as “without renewables, there can be no future”, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, ahead of the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, marked on 7 September.Renewable technologies like wind and solar power are, in most cases, cheaper than the fossil fuels that are driving climate change, but the world needs to prioritize the transformation of energy systems to renewable energy.
The Climate Ambition Summit, scheduled for 20 September at UN Headquarters in New York, will consider how to accelerate this transformation.
Here are five ways that acceleration could happen:
1. Shift energy subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy
Fossil fuel subsidies are one of the biggest financial barriers hampering the world’s shift to renewable energy.
The UN Secretary-General has consistently called for an end to all international public and private funding of fossil fuels, one of the major contributors to global warming, calling any new investments in them “delusional”.
“All actors must come together to accelerate a just and equitable transition from fossil fuels to renewables, as we stop oil and gas expansion and funding and licensing for new coal, oil, and gas,” he said.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) revealed that $5.9 trillion was spent on subsidizing the fossil fuel industry in 2020 alone. This figure includes subsidies, tax breaks, and health and environmental damages that were not priced into the initial cost of fossil fuels.
That’s roughly $11 billion a day.
Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy leads to a reduction in their use and also contributes to sustainable economic growth, job creation, better public health, and more equality, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable communities around the world.
2. Triple investments in renewables
An estimated $4 trillion a year needs to be invested in renewable energy until 2030 in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Net zero is the term which describes achieving the balance between carbon emitted into the atmosphere and the carbon removed from it.
Investment in renewables will cost significantly less compared to subsidizing fossil fuels. The reduction of pollution and climate impact alone could save the world up to $4.2 trillion per year by 2030.
The funding is there, but commitment and accountability are needed, particularly from global financial systems. This includes multilateral development banks and other financial institutions, which must align their lending portfolios towards accelerating the renewable energy transition.
“Renewables are the only path to real energy security, stable power prices and sustainable employment opportunities,” the UN chief said.
He has further urged “all governments to prepare energy transition plans” and encouraged “CEOs of all oil and gas companies to be part of the solution”.
3. Make renewable energy technology a global public good
For renewable energy technology to be a global public good, meaning available to all and not just to the wealthy, efforts must aim to dismantle roadblocks to knowledge-sharing and the transfer of technology, including intellectual property rights barriers.
Essential technologies such as battery storage systems allow energy from renewables to be stored and released when people, communities, and businesses need power.
When paired with renewable generators, battery storage technologies can provide both reliable and cheaper electricity to isolated grids and off-grid communities in remote locations, for example, in India, Tanzania, and Vanuatu.
4. Improve global access to components and raw materials
A robust supply of renewable energy components and raw materials is a game changer. More widespread access to all the key components and materials is needed, from the minerals required for building wind turbines and electricity networks to elements for producing electric vehicles.
The UN’s International Seabed Authority is currently working with its Member States on how to exploit such abundant mineral resources in international waters as those crucial for manufacturing batteries while ensuring the effective protection of the marine environment from harmful effects that may arise from deep-seabed-related activities.
It will take significant international coordination to expand and diversify manufacturing capacity globally. Greater investments are needed, including in people’s skills training, research and innovation, and incentives to build supply chains through sustainable practices that protect ecosystems.
5. Level the playing field for renewable energy technologies
While global cooperation and coordination is critical, domestic policy frameworks must urgently be reformed to streamline and fast-track renewable energy projects and catalyse private sector investments.
Technology, capacity, and funds for renewable energy transition exist, but policies and processes must be introduced to reduce market risks to both enable and incentivise investment, while simultaneously preventing bottlenecks and red tape.
Nationally determined contributions, or countries’ individual action plans to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts, must set renewable energy targets that align with the goal of limiting the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels.
To achieve this, it is estimated that the share of renewables in global electricity generation must grow from 29 per cent today to 60 per cent by 2030.
Women of the Global South Are Key to the Energy Transition
As a businesswoman who has dedicated my life to elevating opportunities for African women, I’ve seen how the historical exclusion of women – and especially women from Africa and the Global South – from international climate talks has derailed climate action.
Only by rectifying this systematic marginalisation of women can Africa fulfil its true potential as a leading global renewables powerhouse.
That is why I am celebrating attempts at the Africa Climate Summit, the first of its kind being held in my home country Kenya, to push back against entrenched gender inequalities.
If we fail to marry the energy transition with the goal of empowering women, the continent will not succeed in combating climate change.
In a ground-breaking move, the African Union Commission, which represents 55 African countries, signed a joint statement with the Government of Kenya and the UAE presidency of the upcoming COP28 UN talks in Dubai, endorsing the goal of tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency to stay within the 1.5C safe limit for global warming. The statement also calls for a “comprehensive systems change”, including the need to transform “food and health systems” while protecting nature and biodiversity.
Neither African governments nor previous COP presidencies have placed such wildly ambitious goals on the political agenda before. And although these goals have not yet taken the shape of a binding agreement, they are being supported with real action.
At the Africa Climate Summit, COP28 president Dr Sultan Al Jabr announced that the COP28 presidency itself will invest $4.5 billion to mobilise up to tens of billions more in African clean energy projects. According to Al Jabr, the point of the pledge is “to clearly demonstrate the commercial case for clean investment across this continent” and to create “a scalable model that can be replicated to help put Africa on a superhighway to low carbon growth”.
This is a huge milestone—with one major caveat: women must become linchpins in the continent’s new, evolving clean energy landscape.
That means overturning years of women being side-lined in climate talks and overlooked in governmental and institutional planning. Just 9% of energy project aid focuses on gender equality, and the UN’s clean energy goal (SDG7) omits gender entirely.
Currently women bear the worst impacts of climate change and energy poverty, accounting for 80% of food production and over 60% of agricultural employment in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet over three-quarters of total public climate-development finance in Africa this decade failed to consider gender at all.
And across Africa, women are marginalised from politics, education and employment. Previous UN climate talks have in effect discussed an ‘energy transition’ by and for men.
This gender-blindness is literally killing the planet. Companies with more women on their boards are more likely to lead them into policies aligned with the goal of capping climate change at 1.5C; and women around the world overall do more than men to change their behaviour to reduce emissions: so excluding them is an existential risk.
That’s why I’m celebrating how this week African nations are uniting for the first time not just to combat Africa’s climate threat, but also to highlight the gender inequalities preventing us from implementing real solutions.
As the First Lady of Kenya, Rachel Ruto, pointed out at the summit, only by equipping women with knowledge and skills can they be empowered to become champions of clean energy and sustainability. She convened a meeting of senior women leaders at the summit to focus on the critical importance of women to the success of the energy transition.
The lessons of the Africa Climate Summit must be taken all the way to the United Nations climate talks later this year. The goal of tripling renewable energy capacity, as the African Union Commission has now endorsed, is only one half of the equation. The other half is removing the barriers preventing women from racing toward this target. This must be enshrined in any global agreement – without it, not only Africa’s but the world’s clean energy transition will fail.
There are signs of progress. COP28 has already appointed women to senior roles representing the presidency, with Shamma Al Mazrui, UAE Minister of Community Development, appointed as Youth Climate Champion and Razan Al Mubarak, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature appointed as the UN Climate Change High-Level Champion.
And just under half of COP28’s advisory committee are women, a big step-up compared to previous COPs which failed to include women at a senior role. The presidency has also called on all delegations to explicitly increase the role of women and young people in negotiations to make this “the most inclusive” COP.
Yet though these are big milestones, they are still baby steps. It’s time for world leaders to recognise that without empowering the world’s women on the frontlines of the battle against climate change, no global agreements will produce the change we need.
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