The energy turnaround is a long time coming: the long endgame of fossils

If the 1.5-degree target is to be achieved, we must succeed in phasing out fossil fuels. In reality, their production is being expanded globally.

power poles

Climate protection has massive, disruptive economic and geopolitical effects globally Photo: Ina Fassbender

Germany is struggling fiercely to phase out fossil fuel imports from Russia. There is acute pressure to act to substitute these, and at the same time it is important to keep an eye on the long-term goal of climate neutrality. A difficult balancing act that has led to the Federal Government having to travel intensively to countries that, for good reason, were not previously considered preferred partner countries. In these days and weeks, we are being confronted with the geopolitical dimension of merciless brutality fossil energy imports brought before your eyes.

In any case, one thing is clear: The idea that the market alone can provide a resilient energy supply is obsolete at the latest when the goal of transformation is reached. Aligning them solely with cost efficiency has already been wrong in the past. What now follows are higher costs, monetary and political. Climate protection has massive, disruptive economic and geopolitical effects globally. They kept popping up in discourse, but they weren’t really addressed in Realpolitik. In just 23 years, Germany wants to have reduced all fossil imports to zero. At least 70 percent of our primary energy today.

Last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) was quoted all over the world with its “Net Zero” report, above all with the statement that investments in oil and gas should no longer take place if the world is really serious about the so-called want to embark on a 1.5° path. The reality, however, lags far behind the political goals. Amin Nasser, head of Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, recently summed up the overriding problem: “While investment in the oil and gas industry is being curbed, we are being asked to increase production increase.” Almost desperate talks are being held everywhere as to whether the production of oil, gas and also coal cannot be expanded further. LNG terminals are being built, new pipelines and transport routes are being planned and new gas and oil fields are being explored. And in the relevant talks, politicians from Germany and the EU are realizing that the current crisis requires solutions that go far beyond a short time horizon of two or three years. If you want new sources of supply today, you have to make long-term contracts. More than ten or even 20 years. New investments must be made – and at the same time the switch to hydrogen and green power fuels must be pursued.

How short-sighted a long-term strategy can be becomes clear now that we suddenly need liquefied natural gas from other regions of the world just as much as oil from the Gulf or even from Venezuela and Iran in order to cushion the embargo against Russia. Although we heralded the end of fossils, we didn’t seal it and certainly didn’t vote together. A serious omission for our flexible supply, climate protection, but also international cooperation and the spirit of togetherness.

It is true that countries that mainly produce fossil fuels have also made voluntary commitments to protect the climate. We have established international partnerships with a focus on renewable energy. But the underlying message to our traditional energy suppliers went something like this: “The fossil imports are a necessary evil, your business model is obsolete, your assets are stranded. There has been little effort to specifically talk to countries about decarbonizing the supply chain. All of this has prepared the breeding ground for a dangerous reading of our decarbonization efforts in some regions of the world. A perception that sees climate policy and the energy transition primarily as a stage for geopolitical competition.

Now the producers of fossil fuels have to be co-opted and taken along for the conversion. Only then can the consensus on the Paris climate protection agreement be maintained, but also the intermediate steps from natural gas and hydrogen, from oil to synthetic fuels, can be defined in order to allow fossil producers to participate in the energy system and value creation.

The endgame of the fossils will take longer

We have to go back to a cooperative mode so that the gradual exit can be planned for both sides and “stranded assets” remain largely theoretical. So we have to ask ourselves the question: do we currently have the right international forums to help us achieve our climate policy goals fossil suppliers to discuss and jointly define reliable exit paths? In the current crisis situation, every country is fighting for itself. This is also an unfortunate side effect of global crises, which we have already experienced with the corona crisis. In the case of the fossil suppliers, climate protection must not be perceived as an unfriendly act of turning away, but as what it is: a painful effort to keep the common planet worth living in, but which will also open up new perspectives. A matter that can only succeed in global cooperation and in an environment free from war, poverty, corruption and terror.

The fossil endgame will take longer than we thought. The rules of the game are different from what we climate protectors believed for a long time. This year’s climate change conference (COP) in Egypt is a good opportunity to make this an issue. In any case, banging your head against the wall will result in greater collateral damage, unlike intelligent, international climate and energy diplomacy with a wide range of new and old partners.

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