Wilkinson is the World Energy Council’s sixth secretary general since its founding in 1923.
She is one of the world’s leading global energy futures experts, an experienced energy executive, a distinguished Oxford scholar and a published author.
Wilkinson has 30 years of experience in leading national, international and global multi-stakeholder transformation initiatives on a wide range of economic, energy, climate and sustainable development related challenges.
Ahram Online: What is the role of the World Energy Council?
Angela Wilkinson: The World Energy Council community was first formed in the early 1920s to rebuild energy systems after crisis. We now have more than 3,000 member organisations in nearly 100 countries, including government bodies, private state corporations and academics.
Our focus is on promoting the benefits of sustainable energy for billions of better lives and a healthy planet. The World Energy Council is not a lobby group or bandwagon: we sustain a globally inclusive, systemic and progressive energy leadership agenda that is independent, impartial and neutral.
As the world moves to COP28 and the 26thWorld Energy Congress, the challenges of inclusive implementation will remain front and centre of our humanising energy vision. We will continue to be the platform for constructive leadership involving the whole energy innovation ecosystem. We are a truly independent world energy voice.
AO: You participated in COP27–along with more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists, as well as activists rejecting fossil fuels. But what did you come up with at this conference?
AW: Some have said that COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh at times had the feel of a trade show. My main takeaways are:
- Not enough was achieved. Despite the accelerating pace of technology innovation and start of a new chapter on loss and compensation for developing countries and vulnerable communities, the hope of 1.5 degrees Celsius is on life support.
- Prices were too high. Local food and accommodation prices, which increased 10-fold, were a reflection of cost-of-living crises across the world. COPs should be a place for all, not a place for the wealthy elites.
- It is time for a new model. Blue, green and ministerial ‘zoning’ does not help in connecting climate-, energy- and human-security challenges, solutions and change agents.
- Throughout the entire COP experience, there remained a lot of “tell.” A dialogue-of-the-deaf is nothing new, but the dismissive tone of “with us or against us” and “all good vs. all bad energy” is more than depressing – it’s ineffective and dangerous.
- Throwing money and technology at complex system change does not work. Inclusive implementation is about mobilising the role of more people and diverse communities in energy transitions and additions. Success is messy!
- Energy for people and planet is not a single-issue agenda or one-size-fits-all solutions space. We need more energy for peace and must avoid bifurcating the world energy system.
- The best way to avoid the climate change emergency pulling us apart is to pull energy together. The future of energy is about all of us.
AO: As the world reels from spikes in oil and gas prices, the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has laid bare a dilemma: Nations remain extraordinarily dependent on fossil fuels and are struggling to shore up supplies precisely at a moment when scientists say the world must slash its use of oil, gas and coal to avert irrevocable damage to the planet. How can we solve this dilemma?
AW: These compounding crises have trigged theworld’s first demand-driven global energy shock. This is a significant moment in the relationship between energy and society.
It is clear that energy transitions cannot be managed using a single metric – carbon – nor without a step change in collaboration.
What we face is a trilemma – a term now being much talked about, but one the World Energy Council invented over 15 years ago. Our now-ubiquitous World Energy Trilemma index pioneered a new way of gauging and managing energy transitions around the world and has been a trusted and impartial source of information for over two decades. It tracks performance on energy transition and connects the dots between energy security, affordability and environmental sustainability challenges.
By using the World Energy Trilemma framework, it is possible for countries to learn with and from each other without reinventing the policy wheel.
AO: There is a great fear that countries could become so consumed by the immediate energy crisis that they neglect longer-term policies to cut reliance from fossil fuels. What is the World Energy Council view on this?
AW: There is a risk that we have become so attuned to the energy dynamics of markets and states that we could become trapped in short-term thinking and have forgotten what it means to have a big vision.
To shift out of the current paradigm, we must combine ground-breaking new ideas with trial and error to develop new ways of doing things. Our humanising energy for breakthrough impact agenda focuses on three neglected enablers in moving sustainable energy transitions at pace and scale – transparency, transformation and trust.
We stand for transparency and trustworthiness – we are a community of communities best placed to achieve breakthrough in diverse regions. And we stand for transformation – we understand the social consequences of accelerating and deepening decarbonisation and believe the next big thing in energy is hundreds of thousands of place-based energy transition steps. Cities and communities need to be involved and we need a regulatory environment where voices are heard and understood.
AO: The economic impact of COVID-19 caused more than 100 million people to lose access to energy, reversing almost a decade of improvements. With higher energy prices and supply challenges the number of people without energy access will only increase. How do you see this?
AW: Whilst net zero is a priority for many nations, access to clean energy remains a priority for many too, especially in developing countries.
Some 800 million people worldwide still have no access to electricity whatsoever and a massive three billion have no access to clean cooking arrangements.
We know that many societies want to build back better in the wake of the pandemic. But regional visions vary and look very different. We need to think about how we can help different societies with diverse energy systems and at different stages of development to progress and emerge from this current crisis stronger, and work together to keep global energy transition on track.
AO: How can the East Mediterranean Gas Forum contribute to solving the energy crisis in Europe?
AW: The East Mediterranean Gas Forum is playing an important role by establishing regional dialogue on natural gas that helps East Mediterranean countries to formulate policies for co-operation in the energy field. Regional interchanges across borders are vital, as is strong leadership in finding solutions to global energy problems.
AO: In light of the increasing geopolitical tensions, there is a risk of economic contraction and dislocations in global and regional energy markets. The energy leadership landscape becomes more fragmented, competitive and conflicted. How can we successfully implement the energy- and climate- security agenda to increase the pace of decarbonisation?
AW: The urgency to accelerate decarbonisation needs a rethinking of energy security and affordability.
At the start of this year, our 13th annual World Energy Issues Monitor highlighted the 12-fold increase in volatility from 2021. Commodity prices were the top concern in all regions and geopolitics was keeping everyone awake at night.
By April, our World Energy Pulse survey highlighted energy leaders were reconnecting energy-security and climate-security agendas with confidence. But the uneven impacts of the world’s first demand-driven energy shock were only just starting to trigger cost-of-living and food security crises.
The World Energy Pulse survey in August highlighted a big shift in sentiment: more leaders are now concerned that the energy security crisis will slow the pace of clean and just energy transitions. Reasons include lack of trust and scepticism about bottom-up engagement.
Three things now hold true.
- First: Crises reminds us how much useful energy matters in our lives. Some world regions have taken this for granted, but now all world regions are experiencing shock and pain.
- Second: Humanising energy is STILL the best way to enable societies to thrive and flourish through global energy transitions.
- Third: Energy cannot be reduced to a single metric. We need to better manage energy transitions with attention to multiple dimensions.
AO: The outcomes that the world needs and the outcomes that its oil and gas industry clients likely want are in conflict. These companies’ business plans call for increasing fossil fuel production, which is in direct opposition to the main goal of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to establish a just, global process to limit the worst consequences of climate change. How can we be optimistic about a halting climate change?
AW: The World Energy Council’s humanising energy vision puts people at the heart of the transition process, including customers and workers.
We have learned to rise above politics and engage with the increasing diversity in energy systems as a source of innovation and learning.
This is not a time for panic. This is a significant moment for energy leadership and co-operation.
I think the future is there to be made – it is about mobilising people and making them create the energy future. It i not about markets or states or technology or money, but about co-operation and co-creation.
We have had a 40-year investment in our World Energy Council Future leaders and young professionals, and they remind us time and again that energy transitions and additions are not for energy.
Energy transitions are for all of us – new models of circular, shared, regenerative development. The youth are trying to introduce a new model and mindset, that is a challenge to maintaining existing systems and building new ones. This is the most exciting aspect – not just tinkering with the technology but creating a whole new reality.
AO: A net zero scenario would mean emissions from homes, transport, farming and industry would have to be completely avoided, or offset by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Has the World Energy Council made plans to reach this scenario?
AW: In a nutshell, net zero is not enough. Diversity in energy is increasing, there is no one size fits all and no time to waste in reinventing wheels.
To decarbonise economies without destabilising societies requires new approaches to clean, just and resilient energy transitions (and additions) at pace and scale.
The world needs more energy for sustainable development and climate neutrality ambitions – not just to transition the existing world energy system from fossil fuels to helio-centric (wind, solar, bio) energy.
We need another energy system – double/triple the size of current energy systems to meet growing demand. States, markets and communities need to learn fast how to work better together.
Humanising energy is the best way to succeed - the solution to avoiding the climate change emergency pulling us apart is to pull energy together.
The future of energy is about all of us and we should not forget what we have learned in the past 100 years about energy for peace and prosperity!
AO: Seas are rising, corals dying, ecosystems collapsing, and waves of extreme weather batter the world. In light of these frightening scenarios, how can we discuss the issues of oil, environment and climate in an objective scientific manner away from political pressures and influences, and the demonisation of fossil fuels?
AW: For 100 years, the Council’s World Energy Congress has convened the co-operative power of the global energy community to turn inspiration into action and draws on our rich history as the impartial and pragmatic voice of the global energy agenda.
With around 7,000 delegates and 18,000 attendees, this global flagship platform is a unique space to address the challenges of energy for people and planet, catalyse new co-operations and build multiple better pathways for global energy transitions.
Our 26th World Energy Congress [is set to take place April 2024 in Rotterdam].
AO: What are the obstacles to achieving global co-operation on clean energy initiatives and what needs to be done to improve energy literacy? How do we raise energy justice on the global energy agenda?
AW: We know that the future of energy will be more demanding and that the new shape of energy is customer-centric. That is why the World Energy community is committed to progressing a step change in global energy literacy by 2030. More people, at every level of society, need and want to better understand their role and choices about energy and how they can make a difference. A key part of humanising energy is educating the user!
Energy justice means different things in different regions. There is no race to net zero; there are multiple races and people have to have more than one horse in each race.
The big blind spot I see when I look at scenarios and roadmaps is there are no people in these futures. And there is a big gap between what customers are doing and what they need to be doing if we are going to achieve successful energy transitions.
We need a bottom-up approach – to engage net-zero or carbon-positive urban and rural communities, and share their experiences as quickly as possible.