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Energy for a Sustainable Future – An Industry in Transition

A panel of experts gathered to discuss energy and climate change. While each guest seeks to play a part in helping the global community reach the targets set in the 2015 Paris international treaty on climate, it was clear that they were coming at it from completely different perspectives.

7 May 2021. A diverse assortment of experts came together at the St.Gallen Symposium 2021 to discuss energy transition as the global community strives to meet the C02 targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

Prof. Rolf Wüstenhagen, Professor for Management of Renewable Energies at the University of St.Gallen, moderated the discussion. In his opening remarks, Wüstenhagen mentioned that while there seems to be agreement by global leaders to reduce greenhouse gases and move towards the targets set forth in the Paris Agreement, that the actual emission of global greenhouse gases does not seem to be reversing, or at least not reversing quickly enough. He pointed out, for example, that we have to reduce our use of coal by 80% in the next ten years to have a chance at meeting our international goals.

The first guest was Marie-Claire Graf, the co-founder of Sustainability Week for Business , vice-president responsible for international external relations at Swiss Youth for Climate, and president of the Swiss Associations of Student Organizations for sustainability, which supports students and sustainability at all Swiss higher education institutions.

“We are not yet on track,” said Graf. She was quick to point out that this is the case not only in faraway countries, but also here in Switzerland. Graf also pointed out that the energy sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, but they also have a big role to play in the transformation moving forward.

Since January 1 2020, Fabian Ziegler has been the Managing Director of Shell Companies in Germany. Ziegler believes that Shell will play an important role for the energy transition. In Germany, Shell operates the largest oil refinery, and is a significant player in Chemicals, Natural Gas, Power, Bulk Fuels, Lubricants and Bitumen. He stated that transforming their business in collaboration with society, customers and partners is both challenging, inspiring and motivating.

Ziegler pointed out that Shell plays a significant role in the transition to environmentally-friendlier fuels. “There is more to be done. We need to accelerate the process.” Shell provides 4.5% of the world’s fossil fuels and is committed to zero emissions by 2050. Shell is looking into replacing oil and coal. “We are trying to manage our net carbon footprint,” he said, “and Shell is trying to regain trust and prove that we are serious about our energy transition.”

Anna Krutikov, the Head of Sustainable Development at the mining company Glencore, believes that her company can also play a role in these global challenges. She pointed out that as a mining company, they supply the world with metals which are needed in our everyday lives. As well, they provide sustainable energy companies with the rare metals that are needed for the energy transition. Her firm has also made a commitment to reduce the footprint to net zero by 2050.

Injecting a sense of hope into the discussion was Henrik Andersen, CEO of Vestas Wind Systems, based in Copenhagen. He was quick to point out that his company is part of the solution and that Vestas provides customers with green solutions in 80 countries worldwide.  Wind is only 1% of all energy production globally. He also described how his industry is changing, pointing out that in 2000 they were dependent on government subsidies to have a comparative price. Today they use only 5% of subsidies in their markets. Some critics of wind power like to point out that the construction of wind turbines is C02 intensive. He mentioned that after construction, there metal wind turbines will become carbon neutral in 4 months… and he expect to use them for 30 years.  

While the struggle to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement will be challenging it became clear to the audience that this transition to cleaner, more greenhouse gas-friendly fuels needs to involve global energy companies.