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Spotlight shed on inequalities over energy

By JAN YUMUL and LIU XIAOHAN in Riyadh | China Daily | Updated: 2023-02-06 07:12

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia : Saudi conductor Tharaa Ali, opens the door of a high-speed train ferrying pilgrims to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, on January 22, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Net-zero ambitions should not come at the expense of growth, meeting told

While Saudi Arabia eyes clean and sustainable energy, an international energy conference in its capital has been told that countries' net-zero ambitions should not come at the expense of economic growth and improving the lives of people in the least developing and less developed economies.

This key message was emphasized by Fahad Alajlan, president of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, during the opening plenary session of the International Conference of the International Association for Energy Economics in Riyadh on Sunday, the first time such a conference has been held in the Middle East and North Africa region.

"With 97 percent of the people without electricity concentrated in the least developing economies, we have an uneven energy access," said Alajlan, adding that the region faces additional challenges of market volatility, geopolitical uncertainties and economic diversification.

Such economies have difficulties in meeting ambitious climate goals, including the net-zero carbon emissions target, as well as a lack of access to modern electricity and clean cooking to a significant portion of global populations, and "supplying all the energy need for all our economic activity".

"We're all looking toward the future of prosperity, which is not achieved at the cost of the planet. Will the future be the same future for all of us and, more importantly, is the starting point all the same?"

Alajlan cited transportation as one of the major elements in achieving sustainability, yet there are big problems that need to be solved.

And while technological developments are the answer in some cases, changes "in the way we plan, the way we act and the way we interact are essential". Electrification is a major target yet it "cannot be the only silver bullet in our arsenal", he said. "When we're looking at energy quality, the disparity in electrification is much more pronounced than overall energy of poverty."

So while the power sector is crucial in achieving energy transition goals, people should understand that electrification may work in major and developed economies, but can be more challenging in new economies and developing markets, he said.

Alajlan also talked about the range of technological, economic regulatory and policy challenges, such as integrating renewable energy and energy storage and emphasizing nuclear technology, digitalization and decarbonization. "We need to diversify the economy, diversify our energy sources and diversify the system and technologies that give space for innovation and create resilience. However, one issue stands above all: financing, the investment that we need."

Financing the energy transition toward carbon neutrality is crucial, Alajlan said.

"When we're looking at inclusivity and the dispersion of funds to emerging economies and countries that suffer from energy poverty, that equation is even worse, so we need to focus on that as well."

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