x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Energy policy shapes today - and tomorrow

Sustainability may be on the agenda in Abu Dhabi, but it will be a long time before oil is displaced as the world's most important energy source.

Change, relentless change, sometimes seems to be the modern world's only constant. And yet the changes the world needs most can be agonisingly slow to arrive.

A trip around the World Future Energy Summit at Adnec this week, followed by a glance at the headlines, demonstrates this paradox plainly. The world's energy future is full of eco-friendly promise, but the world's energy present still depends very greatly on oil, and on coal.

Energy security and the menace of climate change are spurring the worldwide search for sustainable, cost-effective, clean energy. Political effort, engineering genius, and public and private money are pouring into the fight. And it's working: solar and wind power are coming online.

But the International Energy Agency says total demand is growing much faster than the supply from sustainable sources. So "non-hydro renewables", which supplied 3 per cent of global energy in 2009, will reach 15 per cent by 2035 - and yet demand for oil will rise by almost 14 per cent by that same year. Coal demand will climb even faster. (But the world's nuclear-power capacity will shrink.)

More than ever before, or at least more evidently, energy policy is the framework that brings order (or disorder) to international affairs. Energy security preoccupies every government; it is no coincidence that the leaders of South Korea and China, busy men, found the time to attend the WFES, and that other governments are also represented.

The central importance of energy is revealed in our daily news. Iran's blustering reaction to an oil embargo has raised military tensions in the Arabian Gulf. Saudi Arabia has signed a new deal with China. Oil prices are among the most closely watched of statistics. Global oil companies are pushing back the looming "peak oil" scenario by investing billions of dollars in drilling deeper, in more remote places.

For the countries of the Gulf, with our large and relatively-easy-to-reach oil reserves, the world's unceasing dependence on oil is an enormous advantage.

But it is prudent to remember that still more change will come with time. By moving into nuclear power, investing in solar, and encouraging the search for new energy through events such as the WFES, the UAE contributes to an energy-secure and sustainable future not only for ourselves but for the rest of the world as well.