Global Energy Realism

To create a global energy system that can meet rising demand within the constraints of carbon neutrality, we must avoid the pitfalls that have plagued past responses. In particular, we must offset ideology with realism, promote private-sector involvement, adopt a long-term perspective, and follow through on our commitments.

MADRID – Energy has become a focal point of global policymaking. As falling oil prices grab headlines worldwide, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have signed a major climate-change deal, and October’s European Council decisions could signal real progress toward a serious European Union energy policy. This momentum should be maintained in the coming year, culminating in December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.

But, in order to establish a global energy system that meets growing demand within the constraints of carbon neutrality, we must avoid the pitfalls that have plagued past responses. In particular, we must strike the proper balance between ideology and realism, the public and private sectors, and long- and short-term considerations. And, critically, we must follow through on our commitments.

When it comes to ideology and realism, the European Union is perhaps the best example of an imbalanced approach, as Europeans’ tendency to lead with their hearts, rather than their heads, has undermined effective action. The knee-jerk rejection of nuclear power by some EU member countries has led to sharp increases in coal usage. Renewables have been pursued with a sort of missionary zeal, regardless of their effectiveness or feasibility. And the EU’s “20/20/20 targets” – a 20% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, a 20% share for renewables, and a 20% increase in energy efficiency, all by 2020 – was more of a mantra than a policy.

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