COP26 Energy Day: Five key learnings from our last 100 years in energy

4th November 2021


Five key learnings from our last 100 years in energy

Dr Angela Wilkinson, our Secretary General and CEO, shares why we must humanise energy to achieve successful global energy transitions.

Today is Energy Day at COP26 - it's time to humanise energy! 

The World Energy Council is the world’s first, permanent and only truly open to all, impartial and neutral global energy community. We have operated for nearly 100 years as a voice of global common sense and our 40 founding members include the UK, China, USA and Russia and now extend to countries and territories across the world. 

I would like to make a contribution to today’s events by sharing some of the key learnings of the last 100 years in energy and extending the hand of collaboration on behalf of the now 3000+ strong organisations that form our practical, locally deep and global networked energy community.  

First. Energy is a system – behind every button, switch and fuel pump is a myriad of connections.  

Second. Energy transition is a process not a destination and it can’t be delivered all in one go.   

Third. Diversity in energy systems is increasing in the broadest sense – geographies, technologies, skills and cultures.  

Fourth. The future of energy cannot be predicted but better energy futures can be co-created if we avoid fear of the future and open up to multiple pathways and new and different energy uses and users.  

Fifth. Energy technology transition always involves societal disruption and transformation.  

These points are as true now as when the World Energy Council started up in the early 1920s.   

The insights are based on accumulated, collective experience of three different eras of global energy transition:  

Energy for peace;  

Energy for prosperity; and  

Energy for people and planet.

The world is becoming warmer and wobblier. More people and communities at all levels of society need to be better prepared for global energy transitions and the real choices involved. Doubling down on inequality and instability is best achieved by scaling community-led actions which mobilise the middle of societies to move. The next big thing in energy is not a big technological moon-shot and must avoid the unhealthy concentration of any form of power – financial, economic, digital or military. Its hundreds of thousands of smaller steps of community-led change maker actions which learn with and from each other as they build forward together.  

Top down versus bottom-up approaches do not work, they need to be connected. And we need to better manage the horizontal connections if more sustainable, climate neutral and socially just energy ecosystems are to flourish. The focus on supply-centric power plays needs to be rebalanced with demand-driven solutions for the many, including the bottom third and the new middle classes.   

Global energy transition dialogue is increasingly fragmented and risks extreme polarisation – stereotyping of good vs. bad, zero fossil vs. net zero emissions. We need greater harmony in managing the myriad of links between humanity and a healthy planet.   

Yesterday's Finance Day at COP26 was both exciting and daunting. Trillions of dollars and billions of lives are at stake. Making sense of all the zeros cannot be done without shared understanding and context. For example, compare the still to be met US 100bn promise of funds for developing economies' energy transitions with the nearly Euros 1 trillion of investments in infrastructure needed to secure green hydrogen imports for EU alone. 

That is why we champion a Humanising Energy vision and promote practical, systemic leadership actions involving all levels of society.  

It is one of the reasons why our 25th World Energy Congress is themed ‘Energy for Humanity’. The invitation is open to all who are interested in the shift from ‘telling to making’ a new energy future for billions of better lives and a healthy planet. I look forward to seeing you all in St Petersburg, in October 2022. Let's humanise energy.

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