Never mind COP24, OPEC may be barrelling us towards a greener world

As COP24 came to a close it may be an opposing event, run in tandem, that has the most significant impact on the transition to clean energy. While in Poland, representatives from 200 countries grappled with climate change, in Austria, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exploring Countries (OPEC) battled with oil pricing. Katowice and Vienna: 240 miles apart. COP and OPEC? Light years. And yet, maybe it is OPEC that is hastening the end of fossil fuels faster.

COP24 has dealt with disruption not conducive to delivering the immediate action called for by the IPCC. Under Trump, the US is blocking progress. Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has pulled the proverbial plug on next year’s conference, meaning Rio won’t get the chance to further cement its synonymy with climate action. We live in a world in which the governments of two of its largest countries are pulling in a direction opposite to the one we need to go.

In this world, it is the oil industry conference that may have inadvertently made the more powerful pro-renewables argument. Here in the UK, wholesale energy prices have been on the rise – up over 30 per cent since January. OPEC help set that pace, orchestrating oil production to increase prices steadily to a four-year high of over $80 a barrel in early October. Top of the agenda in Vienna? How to stabilise at that high price.

The unintended consequence of this is that it will help push renewable energy technology adoption forward, faster. More so as costs and the subsidy dependencies decrease. Egypt’s Benban Solar Park is a good example. 200,000 panels, covering 37 square kilometres – once completed, it will be the world’s largest solar power plant. It will generate 1.8GW of power – enough electricity for 750,000 homes. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development alongside a number of both public and private investment banks are funding it. The EU and Egyptian governments are championing it. Local labour is building it. Further proof that renewables technology can work at scale – environmentally and economically – when the investment is there.

Will we need a COP 25 and 26 as renewable energy gathers pace? 200 international delegations making small talk while thrashing out the big issues. Global blueprints, greener futures, white hopes. And do we need lose sleep over the headline grabbing denialist regimes if renewable energy is not just economically viable but economically preferable? Yes, and yes, but we can be optimistic.

We need strong support from governments: no penalties for renewables; no subsidies for fossil fuels; free flowing global capital to invest in clean energy technologies. We need the international community to rally, inspire and shape change. We need banks and businesses to fund and build ambitious renewable energy infrastructure.

So, thank you to both OPEC and COP, you may both be contributing to a lower carbon future.

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