The Middle East is the Key to “Smart Energy” Transitions
By Admiral Mike Hewitt
The US Senate just passed the most comprehensive bill to fight climate change in the history of the United States. The $ 750 billion dollar bill, called the Inflation Reduction Act, may or may not actually do anything to reduce inflation. What it does fund though is $370 billion in clean energy, electric vehicle tax breaks, domestic manufacturing of batteries, solar infrastructure, and provides pollution reduction incentives. The combination of incentives, policies and driving American domestic production of renewable energy systems is both bold and expensive. But even at that price tag, will it achieve global climate change?
The simple answer is we don’t know. If it does work as advertised, it will return the US to pre-2005 levels of pollution by 2030.
Unfortunately, what it doesn't do is address the current global crisis in energy, the catastrophic lack of food and water, or even the goals of COP-26. It takes an America-only approach, which for the massive challenges at hand, is simply admiring the problem, not addressing it. The over subscription to renewal energy and ignoring the need for a smart transition plan has created the global crisis we now see. This wasn’t caused by Covid or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, those issues simply accelerated the awakening that energy security must drive energy policy. Climate change can only be achieved by a global, holistic approach.
We are ignoring a region of the world that in many respects is the only region that can lead a global energy transition - the Middle East.
The technical competencies, financing, infrastructure, governance, innovation, and vision of the Middle East in leading their own climate change strategies can also work for the rest of the world. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with Egypt and Jordan, can do more than complement US efforts - they can ensure success.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are reigning in the regional and international effort to fight climate change and produce clean energy. Their energy policies are the foundation of how they use science, technology, and good public policies to initiate successful environmental plans.
The UAE is taking a leading role in diversifying its energy infrastructure toward a cleaner, robust mix of production, consumption and exporting abundant, baseload and clean energy. They are a successful example of tackling climate change and should be a leader in the international climate change conversation, along with many of the other GCC nations.
Amidst ongoing crisis in the Middle East, the UAE in particular, is executing plans to diversify out of fossil fuel and into more renewable energy and hydrogen production and have a very robust nuclear power program as part of their clean energy strategy. They have been successfully transitioning their energy mix, and by 2050, over 50% of their energy use will be clean. They are freeing up their resources for international development by not consuming their own oil for energy. The UAE has created a repeatable, bankable and exportable model that should be applauded.
Many of these Middle East nations are well positioned to lead, based on their vast experience in the fossil fuel industry. They are prepared to finance their experience in market and trading and in the international development of diverse energy sources. The world should be celebrating and encouraging them as they take decades of experience in fossil fuel production and are now reimagining how to utilize those skills in clean energy solutions which will benefit the world.
GCC energy policy recognizes that we must take a commercially driven approach to energy transitions, one that will work for the industrialized countries of Europe and Asia, as well as the emerging market countries of Africa. Much of KSA’s Vision 2030 and UAE’s Hydrogen Hub Alliance recognize that population growth, urbanization and industrialization of the emerging markets requires much more than incentives and subsidies. The hard to decarbonize industries are not going away. We can’t stop producing things vital to the stability of the planet, so we need to collectively develop a globally sophisticated energy plan. The Middle East countries are key to this.
Russia and China have taken a different approach to energy, one that is based on geopolitics and energy dominance. They have done so while rooting on the US and western nations while we put ourselves into energy poverty and decarbonization subservience.
Just like the Middle East was a key ally in winning the Cold War through energy, it is critical we start to recognize the need for an alliance approach to energy security and global transition plans. The key partner to that effort is the Middle East.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rear Admiral Michael Hewitt is Co-Founder and CEO of IP3 (International Peace, Power, and Prosperity), an international energy and security company with the mission of bringing safe and secure nuclear power to the world’s most critical markets.