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American leadership needed

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

According to the Brookings Institute, there was little hope for climate and energy governance 5 years ago. The 2009 UN Climate Conference was highlighted as a great opportunity, but was ultimately mired in confusion and doubt.

However, more recently there has been a proliferation of institutions for different aspects of global energy governance. Collectively though these new initiatives and the older organizations that they both complement and compete with are far from forming an effective system of governance. Significant challenges remain. These include:

Managing the new price instability

With changing patterns of oil flows, uncertainty about growth levels in the emerging powers, and the potential for major instability in the Persian Gulf, price volatility will remain a feature of the global energy markets. According to the Brookings Institute, global mechanism will need to be retooled, primarily the International Energy Agency, in order to promote stability.

Asia’s contested networks

Investment in energy infrastructure in Asia will set patterns for energy consumption in Asia for decades. The question of whether the next wave of spending in Asia is ‘green’ or ‘black’ is hugely consequential in economic, energy and climate terms. Investment in energy networks in Asia will only be more complicated if geopolitical tension mount.

Instigating revolution

A revolution is required to invoke greater use of renewables drive a focus on efficiency. This revolution is necessary if there is to be any hope of attaining a less than 2 °C rise in average global temperatures.

Making energy sustainable

According to Brookings, energy use must be sustainable, not just in climate terms, but also in terms of energy access for the poor, the sustainability of energy growth in large developing countries and the impacts of energy prices on food security. UN initiatives may provide a good venue for debate, but do not necessarily have the political space and resources to deliver.

The US: Poised to lead new efforts

With dedicated leadership, the US is arguably uniquely places to lead efforts in energy and climate governance. It has more capacity than most countries to encourage greater effectiveness in global energy governance.

In regards to climate, the US can use the power of its market to shift the balance of incentives away from coal and oil and toward a more sustainable mix of gas, renewables and increased efficiency.

However, the US can’t face these challenges alone. Brookings suggests that a combination of American leadership, shared interests with the emerging powers and G-20 creativity is the most likely channel for the genesis of a more effective system for energy and climate governance. Nevertheless, with rising energy production, America’s hand in global energy markets is strengthening; now is the time to play it.

Adapted from a press release by Emma McAleavey.

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