How can the 16,000+ young leaders engaged with the One Young World network use there influence to help deal with the global energy and global warming problem? Well we can start by ‘being realistic’ says an expert panel brought together to discuss this problem by Oxford Analytica yesterday. I went as a One Young World ambassador and was practicing being ‘a completely unreasonable person’ by asking ‘why can’t we meet the more ambitious CO2 reduction targets specified by One Young World at our Inaugural summit in London?’
Energy is so fundamental to economic growth that it is something we can’t do without if we want to continue taking people out of poverty. The only other option is a massive redistribution of the existing wealth. Energy demand is also on the increase due to the urbanisation and industrialisation going on in the developing countries.
Renewables are an intermittent source of power as the sun does not always shine, the wind does not always blow and what is going to power our homes on a cloudy still day? There will come a day where the combination of highly developed infrastructure, electricity storage and advanced renewables lead to a full reliance on green energy. However even if the developed countries really apply themselves to this technology they will be lucky if they are producing 15% of their energy needs by 2020.
So what are the options?
Renewables are the future that we all want but we are going to have to use hydrocarbons to get there and help us make the transition. All energy sources carry risks that are both immediate and full life cycle. These risks need to be fully considered, but out of all the hydrocarbons it is clear that the most green to produce is gas. Using conventional methods of extracting gas, supplies are due to last for at least another 60 years but cost is going to soar if political and economical barriers in place still remain. If we move to the more unpopular and less green unconventional methods of extraction we have a 250 year supply of much cheaper gas, which in my view is a dangerous attraction to the energy companies.
If we are going to reduce carbon emissions while meeting growing global energy demands it will take a mixture of existing technologies and emerging ones. So we need to deploy the greenest of the hydrocarbons on a larger scale to reduce the damage done during this transition. From a developing countries perspective gas is very attractive because it is cheap, abundant and the infrastructure for transportation is in place. For developed counties in the global recession with ambitious carbon reduction targets it is also a more attractive option being cheaper and greener than the other hydrocarbons. However beyond these carbon reduction targets in 2020 their needs to be a more sophisticated approach to this with a strategy for decarbonising gas, which is possible using carbon capture technologies.
After fukushima the appeal of nuclear has greatly diminished and is unlikely to be chosen as a leading contender as the main transitional power source, even if it does overcome the huge stigma it has attached to it. Bureaucratic barriers cause plant production times of over 15 years in developed countries stopping if from becoming a short-term solution. The only thing that is likely to revive nuclear is the time when global warming is long out of control.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to the energy solution. Whatever you choose there are consequences, and these are consequences we are still understanding more about as technologies advance and their lasting impact and effectiveness becomes apparent. No single method of energy production can meet all our needs and we need a portfolio approach to produce green energy so that if one energy source turns out to more damaging to the environment than originally expected then there are alternatives in place.
There is however one fuel that is critical to helping this us cut carbon emissions and reduce the damage done in this time of transition, and that is efficiency. Domestic energy consumption per GDP in developed countries is actually starting to drop for the first time due to this. Not burning fuel and being more efficient in everything we do is a very important investment we can make for the future.
After attending this discussion I am clear that young influencers need to start approaching this problem with less emotion and more informed arguments if they are going to make a difference. Research the solutions, their strengths, weaknesses and understand their feasibility and how they work together. There are areas we can make a difference and help speed up the transition by tackling the lobbies and political barriers that hold this process back. Also by campaigning for, and protecting those political incentives that are encouraging the development of greener technologies and their infrastructure.
So it is the time to be ‘realistically decisive’. At a time where the USA is building the worlds largest coal export terminal to supply China, we need to be focusing our influence and work to promote an urgent shift toward the less carbon intensive of the hydrocarbons for a cleaner transition as well as pushing the renewable agenda.
Director and Founder, www.Power-of-Youth.org
This morning is really very interesting as well as insightful. All of the panelists are experts on ‘gas’ energy, although they are from different sectors, like the university, the Oxford Analytica (consultancy company) and Shell. It is a good chance for me to know more about the energy usage across the world, the gas production and trade, the challenge of nuclear energy, etc. More importantly, we have had a fruitful discussion on the topics related to sustainable development and young people. For example, how could young leaders behave to let people know the full risk of the nuclear energy without enlarging or neglecting it? How would young leaders do to promote the more convenient trade of gas resources or gas-exploited technology among countries? I am very delighted to see the experts are very keen to see our young leaders to pay attention to the energy issues and play a role on them.
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