Green energy still no closer: WEF study

World's energy systems more secure but environmental sustainability has stalled

Most of the world's energy systems have become more accessible and more secure but not any greener, a study published yesterday by the World Economic Forum (WEF) found.

In collaboration with advisory firm McKinsey and Company, the study, "Fostering Effective Energy Transition", looked at the energy systems of 114 countries which accounted for more than 98 per cent of global gross domestic product, focusing on their electricity grids as well as fuels for transport and cooking.

The authors found that over the past five years, global progress towards environmental sustainability has stalled. Environmental sustainability refers to how green energy systems are, particularly the electricity sector, and whether electricity production is becoming more environmentally friendly over time by steadily reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) and improving air and water pollution.

"The energy transition is one of the key challenges facing society today," said Mr Pedro Gomez Pensado, head of Oil and Gas Industry at the WEF and leader of the Forum's energy transition project.

"Energy systems definitely need to move into better environmental performance," he said. "This is something that is not only important, there is a sense of urgency," he told The Straits Times.

The authors wanted to see how well prepared national energy systems are to switch to greener power as a key part in fighting climate change. Mr Pensado said the findings would help countries, particularly developing countries, create a roadmap to improve their energy infrastructure to bring electricity to more people and boost growth without pumping more CO2 into the air.

Globally, the energy system, through burning fossil fuels, is responsible for more than two-thirds of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions. Burning coal in power stations and steel-making is by far the single largest source of CO2 that scientists say is heating up the planet. So cutting emissions, particularly from the electricity sector, will be crucial in limiting global warming.

The report's authors benchmarked each of the countries against a series of standards, namely how well they are able to balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability. Other metrics included the strength of regulation and government institutions, access to capital markets and an inventive, nimble business sector that is quick to adapt.

The authors found that Singapore ranked 12th and Malaysia 15th in the index. By comparison, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland made up the top three. Britain came in at 7th and France 9th, the only G7 economies in the top 10.

"Although Singapore has a well-functioning energy system, it ranks below most advanced economies on the system performance component of the index. High CO2 emissions per capita and dependence on energy imports are the key indicators that affect Singapore's energy system performance," says the report.

However, Singapore ranked 9th globally on the readiness component of the index. "Strong institutions and regulatory frameworks, culture of innovation, and modern infrastructure will enable Singapore's energy transition," the authors say.

The United States scored 25th, ranking poorly on environmental sustainability, but was lifted by strong innovation and vibrant capital markets. China ranked 76th, but achieved "leapfrog status" because of recent mandates for electric vehicles and political commitment to addressing environmental challenges, such as creating a national carbon trading market. Its performance suffered because coal is still the major source of energy. India took the 78th spot and Indonesia 53rd.

Delivering greener energy at an affordable cost and with declining CO2 emissions is a huge challenge, say the authors, but also an economic opportunity in embracing new types of energy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'Green energy still no closer: WEF study'. Print Edition | Subscribe