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Global Energy Agenda February 7, 2024

Energy security is global security

By Geoffrey R. Pyatt

Geoffrey R. Pyatt is the US assistant secretary for energy resources at the US Department of State. This essay is part of the Global Energy Agenda.

As assistant secretary of state for energy resources, my team and I focus on two key, complementary goals: energy security and energy transition.

In nine years as a US ambassador in Europe, I witnessed time and again Vladimir Putin’s use of energy as a tool of coercion. I saw it as ambassador to Greece when Russia cut off gas supplies to neighboring Bulgaria, and as ambassador to Ukraine when Russia tried to pressure Ukraine and the EU by altering gas transit, upending the reliable flow of energy.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine failed on the battlefield, Putin has unleashed a wave of brutal attacks against Ukrainian civilians and the energy infrastructure that keeps their lights on and their homes warm.

Ukraine’s power generation capacity has been degraded by almost 50 percent since February 2022. Despite this, Ukrainian energy workers, supported by a Group of Seven-plus (G7+) coalition, have done all they can to repair, restore, and harden the grid and generation facilities.

This work has, so far, prevented large-scale blackouts this winter. Ukraine has even been able to store Europe’s excess gas and help address European concerns about shortages.

Nevertheless, this war has highlighted how malevolent actors can weaponize energy resources, and the importance of diversification.

It also has demonstrated how US national security, and the security of our friends and allies, depends on energy security, and how America’s energy abundance can contribute to our alliance relationships.

The European Commission’s rapid response through its RePowerEU package and US-EU cooperation, including through the US-EU Energy Council, has helped drive new energy efficiencies to bring down demand, while the amount of US liquefied natural gas (LNG) sent to Europe has surged. Russian piped natural gas exports to Europe, which had been receding since 2020, plummeted drastically after 2022 to a new low of around 27 billion cubic meters in 2023. Making up for this significant drop in supply, US LNG producers stepped up to deliver supplies to Europe, with some 70 percent of US LNG exports last year going to the continent. Our partners have turned away from Russia as an energy source, I believe, permanently. Since 2022, US exporters have supplied the EU with approximately 90 million tons of LNG, three times as much as the next largest supplier.

The safest source of energy is what we generate ourselves, and what we can build or share with our allies and partners globally.

While the United States has met Europe’s immediate supply challenges going into this winter, the urgency of the energy transition is increasingly clear. The safest source of energy is what we generate ourselves, and what we can build or share with our allies and partners globally.

This effort starts at home. The multiplier effect of the US Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the CHIPS and Science Act is tremendous. The United States has entered a clean energy manufacturing renaissance, driven by public-private partnership, which has unleashed the private sector to help meet domestic and global energy needs.

These pieces of legislation have built the platforms upon which US and international companies can build value and launch the infrastructure and technologies of tomorrow.

Since the beginning of the Biden-Harris administration, private companies have announced $628 billion of investment in the industries associated with the energy transition: clean power, heavy industry, biomanufacturing, clean energy manufacturing, electric vehicles, batteries, carbon capture utilization and storage, and semiconductors.

During my meetings with energy ministers, private-sector executives, civil society, and stakeholders around the world, everyone has demonstrated their understanding that energy access affects agriculture, business, communications, education, food systems, healthcare, and transportation.

Energy security means energy access and supply without threat of coercion, and without concern over dependencies. It means a country has choice and the opportunity for growth.

Energy security means energy access and supply without threat of coercion, and without concern over dependencies. It means a country has choice and the opportunity for growth.

The energy transition has been and will continue to be an important element in ensuring our long-term energy security. But for the energy transition to succeed, it must be just.

We have created the tools to achieve this. The Minerals Security Partnership (MSP), for example, has served as a catalyst for public- and private-sector investments to build the diversified, secure, and responsible global critical minerals supply chains that underpin the minerals and metals essential to the energy transition. Everyone agrees that market dominance by a single supplier is unhealthy.

The MSP was created to offer producer countries a better deal than our adversaries. This means opportunities for local communities and value for our partners—from extraction all the way through recycling—pursued with high environmental, social, and governance standards.

The United States has also anchored the Just Energy Transition Partnerships with South Africa, Indonesia, and Vietnam, a G7+ effort to help each of these countries accelerate their energy transition with the support of multibillion-dollar assistance programs.

Additional programs like the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, an initiative to leverage over $600 billion in sustainable infrastructure financing, including for energy security and transition, are also means by which the United States and our partners have been working to help countries around the world grow at a faster pace.

The United States recognizes that nations don’t just want to decarbonize. They want to prosper.

This is a global effort. In Dubai at the 2023 United Nations Climate Conference, COP28, nearly 200 governments called on the world to transition away from fossil fuels in a just, orderly, and equitable manner. Corporations and nations pledged to significantly reduce methane emissions. The United States helped win pledges by more than one hundred countries to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 and by twenty countries to triple deployment of safe, secure, and reliable nuclear energy from 2020 levels by 2050. The United States joined Canada, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom to mobilize billions of dollars of investment in fuel for our nuclear power plants and move away from dependence on Russian nuclear fuel supplies.

These agreements, commitments, and ambitions will shape our geopolitics for decades to come. No one country can fulfill these goals alone.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in remarks to university students at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies last September, said that US domestic and foreign policy are more aligned than ever, and that they must be able to face the “defining tests of this emerging era.”

We face these tests in the United States, in Ukraine, in Dubai. Everywhere. It is a historic moment. To be a diplomat, working with allies and partners, you must be optimistic. When I consider our shared energy future, both its challenges and its promises, I certainly am.

We have an opportunity to transition energy systems globally and an imperative to change them now.

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Image: Russian military vehicles escort a motorcade with members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert mission, who leave the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict outside Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, June 15, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko - RC2PJ1A9TMQW