How a circular carbon economy can help achieve Paris Agreement climate goals

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Thamir Alshehri
Senior Research Associate, King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center

Lee Beck
International Director for Carbon Capture, Clean Air Task Force; Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center

Sama Bilbao y León
Director General, World Nuclear Association


Reed Blakemore
Deputy Director, Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council

REED BLAKEMORE: So what we’ll do is I think I’d like to start things off by turning to you, Thamir. And, you know, as I mentioned, I think KAPSARC deserves a lot of credit for its exploration of the circular carbon economy. You know, you recently launched a circular carbon economy index—which for the sake of brevity I’m just going to call the CCE index from here on out—which tracks this progress circular carbon economies are having around the world. But before we dive into that specifically, I think I’d like to open our session by asking you, you know, where do you see the role of the circular carbon economy in the pursuit of our necessary net zero pathways? And in particular, how this effort both at KAPSARC and the development of these economies around the world has evolved over the past several years.

THAMIR ALSHEHRI: Hello? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Yeah, we have been working the circular carbon economy, CCE, since it’s been endorsed by the G-20 in 2020 during the Saudi Arabia presidency. And we think that achieving the Paris agreement goals will need to go through reducing emission through non-fossil fuels technology and net-zero technology. But also technology like CCUS need to be considered. And here we can actually find where the CCE can be a great framework, a great concept to look at it from that lens and also engage all players in the region using a holistic approach to—and make these players to choose their own pathways. That’s the strength of the CCE.

Talking about the CCE index, it’s a tool to frame—a policy-oriented framework to measures countries’ potential and performance—and current performance. We developed that in KAPSARC in house, fully in house developed, including all the materials from web portal to all the modeling tools that we also launched recently, two weeks ago, and here in actually expo. It was a regional launch for our CCE lab to actually perform some sort of scenarios on countries where they adopt certain technology or improve in certain areas. So this is an overview of the KAPSARC work on the CCE and the CCE index.

REED BLAKEMORE: And I’d like to dive a little bit more into the index. And I realize I have mistakenly called it a CCE tracker, and that’s partly because we have a CCE index and a CCUS tracker on stage. So forgive me there. But I’d love to—you know, you launched this report about the index in December of last year. And you mentioned how it serves as an opportunity to monitor the potential and the progress in CCE in specific countries. You know, I’m wondering—you know, following your December report—are there any lessons learned? Any major takeaways from that work thus far that you think are worth sharing, and I think can advance our thinking on where we need to go next?

THAMIR ALSHEHRI: Yeah, definitely. If we are looking at the 2021 CCE index result, we can pull out very interesting findings that countries adopted different technology based on their circumstances, but also there’s huge gaps, and huge gaps between top countries and bottom countries. Gaps in policy and regulation, and technology, and finance specifically are huge there. So this area where we can focus from now on, and the index is a great tool, actually, to look at this from different perspective.

Also, we can—we observe that there is lack of data, especially to the CCE and CCUS related policies, technologies. So we are working with our partners to enhance that. And I think we will be improving year by year on the data availability and data accessibility. So this—as in general, that’s the—I think the take outs from the CCE index work now.

REED BLAKEMORE: I think policy gaps and data availability, those are two issues I want to dive into later on in our session. But, you know, briefly, Lee, I want to turn to you next. Thamir mentioned, you know, this is all ultimately about carbon management. He mentioned some of the technologies, particularly CCUS is a major component of this circular carbon economy. I’d be remiss if I didn’t, you know, briefly plug the work that CATF has done with the Global Energy Center for CCUS scalability. And we had a workshop actually just a few days ago on this subject. I think it would be—could you, generally speaking, paint us a picture of, you know, the role that carbon management technologies specifically are going to play in this circular carbon economy.

LEE BECK: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much, Reed. I want to start off with saying thanks to everyone who joined us today. Thank you, the Atlantic Council, of course also our partners, KAPSARC, with whom we’re working in the region.

Maybe I will start with just giving a quick overview of Clean Air Task Force. We’re an environmental and climate NGO. We were started 25 years ago in the US to reduce emissions from power plants. But with 75 percent of emissions reductions expected to come from technologies not yet mature, and that’s an IA stat, we’re really focusing on those overlooked technologies. So carbon capture is one of them. We have a really big team focused on methane. Reining in methane pollution is the most important thing we can do between now and 2030 to shave off global warming, advanced nuclear, hydrogen.

And we’re really looking at this from an optionality perspective. We need as many options as possible to prevent technology locking and to create pathways that are just—just, as in each country needs to have the technology pathway that fits its individual resource, social and political, economic framework. And I think carbon capture is a great example. Here at this conference you touched on it already. We need t a realistic energy transition. We need a realistic energy transition that takes into account that energy demand is still growing, we’re facing an energy crisis, there’s a billion people that still don’t have energy access. Seventy percent of fossil fuel resources are owned by national oil companies out of traditional advocacy and divestment pressure.

So we need to create realistic pathways to get to net zero. And carbon capture can help us by future-proofing oil and gas, turning it into hydrogen. So we’re really interested in the region becoming a blue hydrogen supplier for Europe, for example. Cement and steel decarbonization, the UAE has the first steel carbon capture plan. Steel and cement account for 12 percent of emissions reductions, pathways for carbon removal. So as you can see, it’s actually a really, really big wedge for decarbonization. But not enough is being done, as you said, to commercialize these technologies. So we’re working on this. And I think I want to touch on the workshops going forward. I’ll hand it back to you, and then maybe we can dive more into the workshops a little bit.

REED BLAKEMORE: Yeah, I think, two items, again. Pathways, right, and optionality, and leveraging the resources within these different countries, as everybody pursues their net zero ambitions, recognizing that everybody’s going to have their own journey as they reach their climate goals. And, you know, making sure that no resources or technologies are off the table so long as anything can be made low carbon, effectively.

I want to—you know, I want to turn to our virtual speaker, Director General Sama. You know, the World Nuclear Association, clearly we’re talking about nuclear here. At a high level, what is the role that nuclear energy specifically has to play in the circular carbon economy? And we’ll move on from there.

SAMA BILBAO Y LEON: Yeah. Thank you very much, Reed. It’s a pleasure to join you all today, even though virtually. I would have loved to be there in beautiful Dubai. But so, yes, nuclear energy is, of course, one of the pillars of the reduce principle of the carbon circular economy. So, again, it’s going to be essential. So, in fact, if we are serious about truly meeting the climate change challenge with the urgency and with the scale that is needed, and also if we are very serious at actually doing that in a just and equitable manner, which we just—we just heard Lee talking about, we really are going to need to use all the proven low-carbon technologies that are at our disposal.

So I think that you know that all the International Energy Agency and also the IPCC scenarios confirm that the use of nuclear energy is going to be an essential component in order to actually achieve the carbonization in a cost-effective and realistic and pragmatic, as Lee was just mentioning. So and actually I would say that, you know, as we are seeing unfortunately right now as a consequence of the war in Ukraine, the role of nuclear is even more important right now if we take into account the additional element of energy security and energy independence in the equation.

And then maybe just the last thing that I will say before we turn it back to you is I will say something that is often forgotten is that nuclear energy, beyond being obviously essential for the production of low-carbon electricity, could also be a game-changer to produce low-carbon heat, which is going to be essential to decarbonize other hard to abate sectors, such as—such as industrial applications, such as heating and cooling for buildings, such as hydrogen production, fresh water production, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So again, enormous opportunities for nuclear energy to contribute to the circular carbon economy.

REED BLAKEMORE: So, yeah, you actually jumped into my next question of you, which is, you know, the role that nuclear energy can play, particularly in our hard to abate sectors. And it strikes me that here are a number of—while nuclear can play a significant role in those hard to abate sectors, you know, that’s what we’re looking for to really seize that opportunity is a combination of, you know, enabling policies, right, and also, I think, you know, expanding and building upon the technological horizon there. Director General, when you, you know, look at what needs to happen in order to really effectively leverage nuclear energy as a resource in hard to abate sectors, you know, what are the key regulatory policy frameworks? What are the key technologies and innovation pieces that you think need to fall into place in order to seize that opportunity?

SAMA BILBAO Y LEON: Mmm hmm. Yes, well, I think that we have, of course, the traditional large nuclear reactors that most everybody’s familiar with. They can play a role there. But I think that more importantly we are seeing that the small modular reactors, which is the next generation of nuclear technologies, could also be a game-changer in this—in this aspect, right? So these reactors, as you know, they are smaller. They potentially can be customized to be more fitted to a specific application, whether it is specifically for industrial heat—process heat, for hydrogen production, or for district heating, et cetera, et cetera. So those are basically two different approaches that we have to use nuclear technology.

So now from the point of view of policies, I really think that—I mean, the technology is close to be there. I mean, obviously, as you know, nuclear is currently 10 percent of world electricity and the largest source of low-carbon electricity in the OECD countries. So nuclear is already contributing enormously. But if we really want to bring this role even further, I actually think that this is a very important time for thought leadership and pragmatism from governments. So this is going to be essential to develop well thought out and diversified long-term energy strategies. And I really think that that is very key for all infrastructure. I mean, as you know, we really need to completely redo our clean energy infrastructure at a global level.

So in this sense it is very, very important to put in place policies and also market frameworks that are going to recognize and appropriately value the different attributes of the various low-carbon energy sources. So I think that this is going to be very important because it’s going to create confidence both in the industry but also in the financing and investment community. And this is going to incentivize investment beyond public investment, also private investment in this clean energy infrastructure.

REED BLAKEMORE: Thank you. So, you know, I want to turn to Thamir. But first, because we said the magic word of, you know, private investment and, you know, the financial community’s role in this, I actually want to briefly, you know, turn back to you, Lee. You know, we—commercial scale is something we—it’s a consistent term in each one of these CCUS conversations we have. And, you know, the need to get capital into the market, as well as to establish the policy frameworks needed to move beyond the really, really successful demonstration projects we’ve seen in numerous different country contexts.

You know, where do you see the key next steps, either in a US-EU-MENA regional context or, you know, elsewhere in the global south? What are the key things that you see needing to happen to bring CCUS to a better commercial scale, and certainly quicker than I think the timeline currently is projected to be?

LEE BECK: Yeah, thank you so much, Reed. I appreciate this question because there’s about 150 carbon management projects under development across the US, Europe, and the Middle East. And if we can build these projects over the next, say—it takes four to six years to develop these projects, so maybe over the next decade—then we’re pretty much pretty close to commercialization. But what we need to do at the same time is, of course, also shortening the deployment timeline in the next generation of countries by understanding infrastructure needs, emissions sources, CO2 storage.

But going back to the financial community, I think there has been this unprecedented realization that we need these technologies. So governments, especially in Europe and the EU, have put unprecedented policy mechanisms on the table. There was $12 billion for CO2 storage alone in the infrastructure package in the US, an additional 8 billion [dollars] for hydrogen production, which can be used for blue hydrogen. The EU has selected four out of six projects—CCUS projects for its first round of innovation fund. There’s CCFDs, carbon contracts for differences, on the table in the ETS reform.

So there’s really this unprecedented policy framework in the US and Europe. And we think that this really can help us attract financing to these projects and make it attractive investments. I think there is—it’s clear climate regulation is going to come in the US and Europe. In Europe, of course, it’s already there. And so we need to decarbonize. And I think the market is responding to this. In 2021, I think there were 51 projects alone announced in the United States as a result of this unprecedented policy momentum. There’s more tax credits—$85 a ton for industry and power, $180 a ton for direct air capture—on the table in the United States. So I think with—by really signaling to the market that this is a technology we need, we need to commercialize, the private investment will come.

And it’s really, really important that we can reduce costs, learning by doing, provide funding for infrastructure, shorten deployment timelines, and really make sure that we reduce the risk of these projects. Because, you know, everyone always says CCUS is expensive. But what’s really expensive is high risk premium on a multi-hundred million dollar loan. So, yeah, definitely agree with you. And thanks so much for pointing to this.

REED BLAKEMORE: Yeah, and I think it’s also equally as important—you’re seeing all of that momentum happening, you know, almost prior to this current energy crisis. And I think one of the implications of this current crisis will be, as part of our reexamination of what energy security is, we’re going to be thinking, you know, certainly more long term about the role of gas and hydrocarbons in that future. So if anything, the urgency of, you know, thinking about CCUS as a carbon management tool as we increasingly, you know, adopt those hydrocarbon sources as an energy security measure, whether that just be for baseload storage or something like that, that momentum is something that can’t be left—can’t be left on the table.

And so, Thamir, I now want to turn back to you. We’ve addressed the CCUS piece, the nuclear piece. I do want to give you an opportunity to weigh in on this idea of the various pathways, because I think that’s something that comes out strongly in the CCE index. When you look at the pathways, when you look at, you know, optionality and providing countries, particularly in the global south, to carve their own pathways to net zero, what are the—what are the major trends you’re noticing? And what can—you mentioned policy gaps. What are the policy gaps that need to be filled, whether international coordination or otherwise, that we should be thinking about moving forward?

THAMIR ALSHEHRI: Yeah. I would like actually to begin on the point that you actually finished at, on the finance. Because this is one of the biggest, actually, gaps on—that what we capture in the CCE index now. I think we are in the stage now to rethink or reshape the perception of the—especially in the oil and gas sectors. You know, how to get players in the industry. If we are saying that oil and gas will end up in 20 years, 25 years, nobody will invest. Nobody will put money in that. So I think with this crisis, you know, already—we already get a momentum there. But I think with this crisis we need also to reshape the perception, and the financial community could actually capture that, to rethink on this technology again with the right policies framework.

So based on that, going back to your question, yeah. Again, policy and technologies and also finance is the biggest gaps, as I mentioned before. I think the internal organization, especially at the—like, for example, we have in Saudi Arabia the CCE national program. They are looking at the CCE at the national level. And I think now they are a great example on a lot of domestic policies to achieve a carbon circularity between different government entities and the private sectors. So I think this is a good example where we can find coordination between government and private sector and investors. I think these frameworks can be put in a place to—at the domestic level—to come up with great policy framework in general.

REED BLAKEMORE: And actually, I think your mention of Saudi Arabia’s CCE strategy I think is an interesting example, in that I think it illustrates how decarbonization should be a consistent—decarbonization and circular carbon economy should be a consistent thread through both energy strategy, industrial strategy, et cetera, in order to success. And almost economic strategy as a whole. And I think there are other countries who might look to that example.

And I think it’s an opportunity for the international community in particular, as a lot of—you look to a lot of these centers of future demand. And of course, we’ll have a session later today on South and Southeast Asia’s energy development story. How do you offer the opportunity—how do you, you know, facilitate and encourage those emerging markets to, you know, think through their energy demand growth in a cohesive, low-carbon manner across the economic industrial and energy delivery sectors I think is really important.

I want to turn back to DG Sama. You know, you mentioned briefly SMRs. And I think, you know, the innovation potential that we’re seeing for SMRs is hugely interesting, particularly as we look to, you know, where SMRs can be deployed in new country contexts. Again, it’s a resource that allows countries to choose their net zero pathway, because it is so flexible in some ways. What are the opportunities, you know, internationally, that you’re seeing on the SMR front?

SAMA BILBAO Y LEON: Mmm hmm. Well, certainly a thing that small modular reactors have brought a lot of excitement and a lot of opportunities to countries that perhaps weren’t really considering nuclear energy in the past, because perhaps they didn’t realize that these opportunities existed. So, yeah. So we have seen a lot of—just obviously you’ve seen that in Europe there is a number of countries, in Central and Eastern Europe, that are very interested in the small modular reactors as well as large reactors. They are doing a huge effort to decarbonize their entire economies. So they are looking at maybe large reactors for traditional applications and the small modular reactors for more smaller applications—more customized applications.

But also, we have seen countries in Africa that are also looking at these small modular reactors as a—as a way to perhaps leapfrog form the current energy systems that they have to a more decarbonized and reliable energy systems for the future. So we are seeing a lot, a lot of interest in these small modular reactors.

REED BLAKEMORE: I think we’ve spent a fair amount of time talking about, you know, the real opportunities that we’re seeing in the CCUS space. So I think—and, by the way, you know, to the audience, if you have a question, we do have a mic that we can pass around. So just flag your desire to ask a question and I’ll be sure to call on you. Otherwise, I’m just going to keep asking questions because I’m interested. But I would like to turn to kind of, you know, the challenges that we’re seeing currently in this space. I think we mentioned policy gaps as one challenge, but I think we’re seeing a little bit of momentum there as we, you know, begin to think more intentionally about the role of decarbonizing sectors rather than eliminating the carbon production outright, right? What are—I think I’ll start with you, Samir. What are the key challenges that you’re seeing, both within the CCE index, that need to be resolved in the short to medium term, let’s say?

THAMIR ALSHEHRI: Well, I will talk about the CCE index. And this is a great time to actually look at this data again, especially with this energy crisis, to rethink about what other dimension that we are measuring now could be considered. Let’s—for example, like, if we are taking the energy security, which is the hot topic of the—of the space, is that currently we are measuring the energy security on the share of imports, energy imports. But there is a lot of dimension that can consider. That’s the number of resources and where the sector can actually be—the critical sectors that feed in.

So we need to look at the more deeper structure of the consumption of each country to have a better insight on that. Again, go back to the energy security thing, is there is—as you can see, there’s a different perception, if you can see here, on the region and GCC, than Europe where it’s more a market-driven. Where here, it’s more like national security driven. We can capture that, and the interconnectivity create. Like, what we see here in the GCC and how it’s different than EU. So, yeah. I think we need to look at—I’m talking, again, about the CCE index and how we actually look at the potential improvement areas. I think we need to look at data from different dimensions.

REED BLAKEMORE: No, I think you speak to, you know, one of the pieces that I hope to get to eventually is this international coordination piece. And, you know, what we noticed, or at least what I’ve noticed consistently and throughout these different regional contexts when we talk about these issues, is the need for shared learning, right? Part of that’s data, obviously. But part of that also is, you know, shared learning about the policy frameworks that are working, right? And so I want to turn to that in a little bit.

But, Lee, you know, turning to you next, the key challenges you’re seeing in your space? And I think it would be interesting in particular if you touched on—you know, given that CATF is, you know, based in Boston, done a lot of work in the United States, a huge amount of work, you know, in a European context. And of course, you just now launched your MENA CCUS tracker so beginning to do a lot more here. So you can touch on any number of these regions, but what are the key challenges that you’re seeing in the deployment of additional CCUS contexts? And, of course, commercial scale and financing is one of those, so I’m going to make sure that you go beyond just that piece.

LEE BECK: Yeah, absolutely. And I want to touch now definitely on the workshops that we hosted on Sunday together on hydrogen and carbon capture and storage deployment. I think one big theme in the workshop was the political problem that carbon capture has. I mean, this also accounts for nuclear, which is really unfortunate because the science is very clear. We need all the technologies on the table. And I think there’s multiple dimensions to this. There is a political problem, the lack of recognition and the lack of willingness to accept that we need to commercialize these technologies for multiple countries, though more and more countries are including carbon management technologies in their NDC.

But there’s also the policy flipflopping and policy inconsistency that we actually heard about in the last panel. It’s unclear, and there’s this perceived conflict between energy security and climate. And I really want to touch on this, because if we’re looking to Europe, 50 bcm of LNG in REPowerEU, 15 bcm coming this year from the US And we really need to make sure that we’re building this infrastructure in a climate compliant manner. So CCUS must be on the table, and then governments must be openly saying we need additional natural resources, and we need to future-proof them with methane controls and carbon capture and storage. So I think there this policy clarity would really help markets to drive investment and make long-term decisions.

The other things are there are, again, as you said, in the region context we need to develop more recommendations on how to realize industrial hubs. I think that was a big theme at the workshop on Sunday, and another piece is CO2 transport and storage infrastructure, and lack of funding for developing countries. We discussed this. The World Bank Trust Fund, which has invested most recently in Nigeria, but also South Africa, Mexico, helped to map emission sources, CO2 storage sites, pilot projects. It’s running out by 2023 and it’s unclear whether governments will earmark, replenish this funding. So we really need to make sure that we build on this momentum and work with those governments that are supportive in the region to continue having funds available, to continue shortening this deployment timeline.

So I think there’s key barriers here that we want to work on. So we definitely want to hear from all of you experts in particular about the region. What do you think is necessary to overcome these challenges, to mobilize investment, deploy these technologies? What are business model challenges? So this is an ongoing dialogue. And, yeah, I think we’re looking forward to the shared paper we’re publishing about this topic. But definitely a lot more work to be done to overcome these challenges.

REED BLAKEMORE: The key message there really is there’s going to be a refocusing on, you know, the hydrocarbons and the role of hydrocarbons in energy security, right? Thamir, you mentioned, you know, the role of oil and gas companies in that story. I think making sure that we’re coupling appropriate policies for things like CCUS as we pursue those roles—yeah, you’re right, 50 bcm, you know, is a significant amount, but should also be coupled with correspondent commitments, you know, to support CCUS, to make sure that energy security doesn’t cannibalize climate action.

Oh, go ahead.

LEE BECK: Yeah, just one addition. I think, you know, oil and gas, definitely part of the transition. That’s what we’re working towards. But we also shouldn’t let them off the hook, right? So I think we need standardization if we’re looking at blue hydrogen imports for Europe, international certification, LCA analysis, standardization of CO2 storage credits. So we can develop a regulatory framework that will enable us to make oil and gas part of the transition. And that’s what we need to develop in—over the next few years, really urgently.

REED BLAKEMORE: So, Sama, I want to turn to you now, give you the opportunity. I mean, from a perspective of challenges, you know, Lee mentioned nuclear suffers from some of—some similar narrative challenges, I think, sometimes in the policy space. Beyond that, what are the key challenges you see that need to be addressed either from a policy or finance perspective in order to really realize nuclear’s potential?

SAMA BILBAO Y LEON: Mmm hmm. Well, I mean, I think that nuclear has been very successful. I mean, we have had very successful nuclear projects recently. For example, of course, in the United Arab Emirates, we were just—we just saw the commercial operation of unit two for the Barakah nuclear unit, so that’s very successful efforts in the UAE. And the same thing we have seen in many projects in China. But unfortunately, I think that everybody is familiar with maybe not-so-successful projects in Western Europe and North America.

So I think that one of the key challenges that the nuclear industry is working towards addressing right now is rebuilding these capabilities, this know-how in North America and Western Europe to actually scale up to the—to the urgency and the speed that is needed for nuclear energy, to actually lead up to the expectations, right, to the needs that we have for nuclear penetration in order to achieve decarbonization.

So, you know, I think that one of the things that could help enormously to incentivize this rebuild of the know-how and the capabilities of the nuclear industry, and also the rebuild of the global supply chain, is going to be more or less what we said, to have clarity and long-term visibility on government policies. So, you know, the best way to be good and cost effective at building nuclear power plants is, you guessed it, building nuclear power plants. So what we really need is to have this continuity, these series of projects that allow the industry to learn from continuous doing, and also to incentivize the growth of the supply chain.

And in that sense, I would also agree with Lee that improving the standardization and the harmonization of the gold-standard standards for nuclear, but also the regulatory and licensing requirements on a global level would really help enormously to accelerate the deployment of these new nuclear power plants, large and, of course, the small modular reactors.

REED BLAKEMORE: I want to go—I think we have a question right here in the third row. And we’re a small group so please identify yourself as well.

Q: Thank you very much. My name is Dionysia Avgerinopoulou and I am the chair of the Environment Committee of the Hellenic Parliament.

Regarding the access to information about CCUS and conversion in other materials, especially fuels, I think that we miss access to this type of information with parliamentarians. And in general, the public does not know about these technologies. And this holds true for the majority of the countries. For example, I was at the IPU meeting, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a few months ago. And it was only the Greek delegation that requested that in the text of our conclusions we add the CCUS directly as one of the means of solving the climate crisis.

So what would you suggest that we, parliamentarians, do in order to get access to more information and also educate the public? And also what we could do on behalf of our, you know, regulatory aspect to help you promote your work? That’s the first question. And the second question, I was wondering if actually there’s not such political will on behalf of the countries that are up to now producing oil and gas, Greece included, so that we don’t actually get the new licenses to create fuel out of the CO2 because this might be competing technologies for the future. So it’s an open-ended question. I think that there is no contradiction, but I would like to hear your advice. Thank you.

REED BLAKEMORE: I think on the data I might—I might turn to you, Thamir. I mean, obviously you pointed out that do we have data gaps, right, but in some ways the CCE index is trying to fill those gaps. So how do we get those insights and get—how do we get those insights in the hands of policymakers? And how do we build additional insights?

THAMIR ALSHEHRI: So on the data, data gaps here, I will touch on the CCUS technologies and CCUS in general. Access to these data was a really difficult task for us. And also the green hydrogen. So in our index, we are using a Bloomberg data, the CCUS project database tool and hydrogen database. And we worked with PNF, the team in the PNF to actually share this data. So you are welcome to visit our website and download the data for thirty countries, actually. So these data actually is looking at the project capacity. So announced projects, commenced, and under constructions.

Again, we need better data. We need more data to measure the potential and the performance—the current performance of this country. We can see that Germany is actually scoring very well on the—especially on the hydrogen, and Saudi Arabia. But, again, even if this project that is happening, but it’s not reported, well, here we look at the—at the reporting and data pipeline at the domestic level, and how this actually could be improved with the coordination with the international data providers, to actually improve this—the data availability and the accessibility for public and for policymaker, and also academia and education. So that’s on the data gaps.

Sorry, if you can remind me again of the question, the other one?

Q: If the development of such policies is actually contradictory with the interests of the oil and gas producer countries maybe at the end of the day? Is it like developing—the new technologies regarding CCUS and conversation to fuel, would it be against the interests of the oil and gas producing countries? Or you don’t see it as –

THAMIR ALSHEHRI: Oh, actually we don’t see that. We—I can touch on the GCC countries here, since they are here. They did their NDCs recently. And they are also adopting the CCE approach to achieve the carbon neutrality. So we can see that they look at this technology as a—yes, that’s how we can see it. And we can see the huge investment and support from the—from the policy to investors on this technology. Again, it’s—if you—it’s different, of course. And different regions and the events on the economic structure of that region and these countries’ financial performance. But again, we are talking about the big players here. So, yeah, thank you.

REED BLAKEMORE: Yeah, and I don’t know if you want to jump in on the data piece as well, in particular, because I think that’s an area where CATF is also doing work. But, of course, the policy question as well. Feel free to jump in.

LEE BECK: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for coming to this session and your question and your interests. I know Greece is looking to use some of the green recovery funds to actually build a blue hydrogen project offshore, which is really, really exciting. I think there’s a few things that can be done. First of all, the International Energy Agency has amazing resources, the Global CCUS Institute. We’re always looking for dialogues with policymakers. I think one concrete step that can be done is to elevate with European Union, with European Commission Greece’s interest in these technologies, because often at the delegations or the representation in Brussels CCUS is an afterthought and we’re having problems passing policy because there’s just so much on the agenda.

And the EU has funds available through the innovation fund, through ETS reform, through the TEN-E and connecting your facilities. So I think that’s really important. And then, of course, taking look at best practices. Which countries have really good policies? In Europe there’s Sweden, Denmark, Belgium that are looking at developing policy frameworks. The US is the most advanced. So I think there’s a lot of shared learning—the Clean Energy Ministerial is another resource that has a CCUS working group that you could join. And I think it’s absolutely not against the interests of oil and gas producing countries to develop these technologies because you are future-proofing your economy, you are future-proofing jobs, creating new jobs, investing in innovation, enabling globally decarbonization. Because in the end, we only have to do innovation once, right? So I’ll stop here.

REED BLAKEMORE: No, I think you’re completely correct. And I saw a question.

Q: I’m Ana Palacio. I’m a member of the board on the Atlantic Council.

And I’m going to insist on something that I think summarizes even this conference. Is we need to take back from the cold oil and gas, but we cannot let them out of the hook. You used that. Now, I’m speaking as a European. It’s easy to say, but you haven’t addressed what really is, in my opinion, the crux, which is this ideology of the green deal. It’s irrational. We haven’t dropped it, even now in the middle of the crisis. And again, I mean, my question is: Do you really have in mind that you are not fighting rational, index, data-proven, but a kind of secular religion? And what are the tools? The tools are to convince the people that—I mean, this is a job for the Atlantic Council.

REED BLAKEMORE: No, I think, so, I mean, I’d love for Lee and Thamir to weigh in on that because we’re talking about, you know, again, breaking a narrative that seems to be out there. But I think it also applies to the nuclear space as well, so I’d like to bring DG Sama back in. So, Lee, over to you for that question.

LEE BECK: Yeah. OK, really quickly. So, as a European, I have to respectfully disagree. I think the EU green deal is amazing because it’s the first time that somebody’s actually trying to create a blueprint for a net zero. It’s the stress test of the Paris agreement, right? And so now it’s up to NGOs, the public, the member states to help European Union and create credible strategies and pathways. So I think the goal is right, but we still—the ambition is right, and we need to ratchet up ambition. But we really need to deliver through action. And you’re right, all of the technologies have to be on the table. And we can’t—we have to stop looking at it through the lens that climate goals and energy security are in conflict.

REED BLAKEMORE: Sama, I might bring you in on this idea of—you know, particularly in Europe, you know, I think it was rather disappointing that Germany made the decision not to, you know, put on its hold its plans to close its own nuclear reactors, partially as a result of this crisis. So it appears there is still some sort of narrative building that needs to happen on behalf of, you know, nuclear in particular. So what are your thoughts on this idea of pushing back against the narrative that we need to be all green only—you know, only green?

SAMA BILBAO Y LEON: Well, I think that—I mean, I would agree with Ana that it is very important for leaders, for policymakers, to be pragmatic, to be realistic and, in many cases, to be courageous and, you know, to have this thought leadership in order to come forward with realistic and pragmatic plans for energy policy. And I would like to highlight something. I mean, I think that most countries currently have climate policies. And climate policies are wish lists, but they are not actual action plans. But what countries need is to develop realistic, step-by-step blueprints of how exactly they are planning to achieve these climate goals.

So in essence, I would agree that a little bit more realism, more pragmatism is necessary. And for that, you know, as Ana mentioned and the person that asked the question before also mentioned, it is very important to make sure that policymakers have all the factual information, the science-based information at their fingertips so they are able to make these technology neutral decisions to put in place, whatever mix of energies is more suitable for their particular country, their particular region.

REED BLAKEMORE: We keep returning to this idea. I think, Lee, you correctly mentioned that the green deal is a first step. The next step is going to be, you know, what are those strategies and actionable pathways? And, Sama, you mentioned that the EU isn’t the only one going to be developing these pathways. And again, we need to be thinking about all of the technologies that are on the table. So long as they can be made low carbon and assist in the construction of a net zero world, they shouldn’t be discluded from the conversation of creating those pathways.

I’m being waved at that we’re running out of time, so I want to give each of our panelists the opportunity to say one closing word. And I might turn back to you, Sama. You know, you already touched on kind of the pathways that are emerging. You know, what are the—what’s got—so I’ll ask, what has you excited about the next several years in terms of nuclear’s possible contributions to a net zero world and a circular carbon economy?

SAMA BILBAO Y LEON: Yes. No, I mean, I think that there’s been a lot of action, a lot of energy, a lot of visibility being given to the essential role that nuclear energy needs to play if we are serious about decarbonizing and actually, these 1.5-degree goals that we have set for ourselves. And just as importantly, to actually achieve the sustainable development goals that we have for the world as a whole. So it’s not only that we need to make sure that we achieve these decarbonization goals, but we also need to do it in a just and equitable manner so everybody in the world has access to abundant, affordable, clean energy. And in that sense, I mean, I think that nuclear energy is absolutely super well-positioned to be an essential component of that, in my opinion, bright future.

So, yeah. I’ll stop there. Thank you, Reed.

REED BLAKEMORE: All right. Lee, you’re next, I think. What has you most excited about the next several years? In the CCUS and the hydrogen space. And hydrogen is one space we didn’t have time to really dive into here, so if you want to touch on that as well I think that would be useful.

LEE BECK: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is an incredible conversation. So thank you so much, everyone. I think I’m most excited about the projects that are on the horizon, the potential proof points for blue hydrogen imports to Europe that have been agreed on in the region. But I think, you know, I just want to leave this panel with an ask that we really need to break down and overcome these false dichotomies of the energy transition. So governments need to put in place scientifically oriented policies to commercialized all technologies, technology neutrality, optionality, however we want to call it. Companies need to take these policies and future-proof and transform their businesses in the near term. They cannot play for time. Again, we need to do it as soon as possible.

And if we can over—then focus really and zero-in on emissions rather than technologies or fuels or resources, then I think we have a good shot at achieving this goal, the green deal, the goal of net zero. So I’m also very much looking forward towards COP-27 and COP-28 in the region, because I think they will be refreshing, they will give a stage to this conversation that we’ve been hearing here at the Global Energy Forum.

REED BLAKEMORE: And you touched on the piece I was going to ask Thamir’s last question. So, I mean, in addition to any final words you’d like to leave us with, Thamir, you know, how do we make sure that—as Lee mentioned, COP-27 and COP-28, being in the region, are going to be huge opportunity to really talk about the—when we talk about the optionality for various countries to pursue their own pathways, to pursue their own resources and build their own net zero ambitions. You know, how can we make sure that the concepts around a circular carbon economy are part of that conversation so that, you know, by the time, I guess, if you’re doing a report every year by the time your December 2023 report on the CCE index comes out that we can say, hey, you know, these are the new pathways that are evolving as a huge reason to be excited?

THAMIR ALSHEHRI: Definitely will have new pathways, and actually a lot of countries will be added to the index by that time. And COP-27 is a great platform for the region. They need the stage to actually show that perception and their views. But more important than that is taking advantage of this time of this crisis, if you can call it a crisis, and different views—take this advantage and make that transition right and consider all options. And make, for example, access to finance, access to technology, sharing the technology—as has been already touched—to available. And we can make a try at this time. I think if we all work together and coordinate our efforts, we can achieve that. And, for example, this platform is great. We can meet great people, get great feedback, and also feed into policymakers to push them to the—to hopefully what is the right direction.

And just a few words, that I welcome everyone to check our CCE index portal, download the data. It’s free. Even if you are not interested in the CCE, there is a lot of—there is more than 50 indicators with open data. You can download. You can look at it. You can share this knowledge. And also we would welcome your feedback. Again, this is a living thing. We are updating this composite indicator yearly. And with these platforms we can get valuable feedback to improve our work and outcomes.

REED BLAKEMORE: Well, that’s a great way to end it. So I’d like to thank our panelists, Sama, Lee, Thamir. This was a hugely great and to our audience, wonderful as well. And so we’ll close it up there. Thank you all very much.


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