Home » CERAWeek – ESG Mena coverage: Climate change, AI, and fossil fuel phase-out in the spotlight

CERAWeek – ESG Mena coverage: Climate change, AI, and fossil fuel phase-out in the spotlight

by Madaline Dunn

The 42nd annual gathering of CERAWeek by S&P Global kicked off on Monday in Houston, Texas, bringing together over 7,000 delegates from around the world, including government officials and policymakers, energy experts, fossil fuel heavyweights, and renewable energy leaders.

Following record-breaking temperatures in 2023 and recent calls from IRENA for an urgent course correction to achieve renewable energy goals, ESG Mena takes a look at some of the event highlights so far. 

Aramco CEO calls fossil fuel phase-out a “fantasy”

According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), 2023 broke every climate indicator. 

In the same year, as temperatures soared and sea levels rose, calls for a fossil fuel phase-out got louder, with many experts arguing its necessity to avoid the worst effects of global warming. 

The fossil fuel phase-out, one of the key points of contention at the most recent COP in Dubai, continues to be hotly debated, including at CERAWeek.

On Monday, Amin H. Nasser, President and CEO of Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company and largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter, called the phase-out a “fantasy,” and urged to abandon the strategy, opting instead to “invest in them adequately.”

“We should phase in new energy sources and technologies when they are genuinely ready, economically competitive, and with the right infrastructure, adjusting all of the above as needed, as we go,” said Nasser – a stance that has been repeated by the oil giant numerous times. 

Alongside refuting the IEA’s forecast on peak oil, Nasser said many alternatives in play are “simply unaffordable” for the majority of people around the world, with oil and gas remaining “much cheaper.”

Nasser added that instead of focusing on eliminating fossil fuel from the energy mix, efforts to reduce carbon emissions should ramp up, alongside improving efficiency, and introducing lower carbon solutions.

In contrast, last year, the IEA predicted that renewable energy will become the world’s top energy source by 2025, with renewables accounting for over 42 per cent of global electricity generation by 2028.

Oil execs join chorus against speedy energy transition

Nasser was not alone in his call to pump the brakes and pursue a different energy transition pathway; CEOs from Petrobas, Shell, Woodside Energy, and ExxonMobil have all shared similar sentiments.

For example, in a fireside chat, ExxonMobil’s Darren Woods, said: “We’re not on the path to make net-zero by 2050 currently, and one of the challenges here is that while society wants to see emissions reduced, nobody wants to pay for it.”

Meanwhile, Shell CEO Wael Sawan advocated for maintaining oil and gas in the energy mix: “Is it oil and gas or is it solar and wind? It’s all and we need them in abundance.”

However, Nasser’s claim that peak oil is “unlikely for some time to come” was refuted by others. 

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm highlighted the IEA’s prediction that “oil and gas demand and fossil demand will peak by 2030.”

AI innovation to drive surge in electricity demand 

Alongside Nasser’s comments on increased energy demand, in part due to “prosperity growth” in developing countries, NextEra Energy CEO John Ketchum forecasts an 81 per cent surge in US electricity demand over the next five years, driven by artificial intelligence, electrification, cloud capacity and chip factories.

Indeed, AI is pegged to be a hot topic throughout the rest of the week.

LNG ban & projections

LNG, dubbed a “false solution” by environmentalists, is expected to see around $55 billion invested between 2024 and 2025, according to Rystad Energy forecasts, and despite the US’s ban on LNG exports, at the event, execs appear optimistic. 

Sawan, for example, forecast “strong growth,” noting that LNG will reach around 20 per cent of gas sales in the next 15 to 20 years. Further, by 2040, he said there could be 50 per cent-plus growth in the global LNG market.

The giant also recently weakened its 2030 carbon reduction target, and “retired” its 2035 target, following similar moves by the likes of BP.

This week, US Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) delivered a letter to President Biden’s Climate Envoy, John Podesta, urging an “immediate reversal” of the Biden administration’s ban on new LNG exports.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the administration’s pause should be “well in the rearview mirror” by early next year.

Activists assemble at energy conference

As the biggest annual gathering of fossil fuel executives, with attendance from the likes of Chevron’s Mike Wirth, Exxon’s Woods, and Shell’s Sawan, at the beginning of the week, environmentalists gathered outside the event, protesting against the platforming of big oil, its environmental impact, and the prioritisation of profit over people.

Earlier this month, climate change activists from Climate Defiance also demonstrated at a corporate diversity event, where Chevron’s Wirth was delivering a speech. 

Seen in a video posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, protestors accused Chevron of being responsible for “killing thousands of Indigenous women, and exposing thousands more to cancer and reproductive illness.” 

“Chevron is also increasing offshore gas drilling with Israel in the midst of a genocide against the Palestinian people,” the activists said.

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