Columbia Global Energy Summit 2023: Celebrating 10 Years of the Center on Global Energy Policy – Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University

In April of 2013 the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) was launched with the mission to bring together world-leading academic research and public and private sector decision-makers to help solve today’s greatest energy and climate challenges. 

For nearly a decade, CGEP has advanced smart, actionable and evidence-based energy and climate solutions through research, education, and dialogue. Today’s global energy crisis reminds us that issues of energy security, energy markets, energy geopolitics, and the energy transition are inextricably linked, and that our mission is as relevant and important today as it was a decade ago. Read a letter from the Founding Director, Jason Bordoff. 

To commemorate the occasion, this year’s Columbia Global Energy Summit brought the foremost experts and leaders in energy and climate policy to talk about current trends in energy security, geopolitics, and the energy transition with a focus on actionable solutions. 

SIPA Dean Keren Yarhi-Milo welcomed guests and participants to what she said is “one of the best energy and climate conferences ever put together in New York City.” She also noted: “Here at SIPA we’ve been busily reimagining our school to deliver even more impact and innovation. This is crucial as we tackle the complex challenges we face in today’s interconnected global society.”

In his opening remarks, CGEP director Jason Bordoff said, “Through this past decade of change and upheaval, I’m proud that the Center on Global Energy Policy has become a trusted source of guidance for leaders who are working to untangle the many challenges that are facing the global energy system. And this expertise is only going to be more needed in the decade ahead.”

To kick off the panel discussions, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dan Yergin moderated a session with Ana Palacio, Former Foreign Minister of Spain; Meghan O’Sullivan, Director-designate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University; and Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group. They talked about the state of energy geopolitics amid global tensions and an ongoing energy transition. “In terms of the energy impact, it has changed all of our conversations,” said O’Sullivan. “There’s good reason to hope that we will look back and say that this war helped expedite at least the European and American move away from carbon-intensive energies. We also have a change in the energy security conversation.”

In the next session, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm talked about energy and climate policies, specifically the opportunities and challenges afforded by the Inflation Reduction Act and role the U.S. government should play in a time of global upheaval. “We hope the Inflation Reduction Act will create a virtuous cycle, a race to the top, if you will. Believe me, there is enough to go around [in the clean energy sector]. Being energy secure also means being able to produce your own solutions in a clean way at home. Clean energy is energy security.”

The next panel on Mobilizing Global Climate Action: Accelerating The Path to Net Zero by 2050 featured Representative John Curtis, U.S. Congress; Laurence Tubiana, CEO, European Climate Foundation; Manish Bapna, CEO & President, Natural Resources Defense Council; Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund; and moderated by Lisa Friedman, a New York Times climate reporter. “When signing [the Paris Agreement], I think the whole world didn’t understand totally what [the net zero goal] means,” said Tubiana. “A big progress in these seven years is that now, every government, every company, every local authority has been interpreting and understanding what it means and how to do it.”

From there the Summit moved into a fireside chat with H.E. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda and Matt Harris, Founding Partner, Global Infrastructure Partners and Board Chair, CGEP Advisory Board. They talked through a range of issues focused on how to balance the economic growth of African countries like Rwanda while heeding the need to reduce global emissions. “On the one hand, it’s huge opportunities,” said Kagame, “on the other, there are also challenges, which in the end translate into opportunities. Not only for Africans, but for others who want to invest on the continent.”

Continuing with the focus on energy and development in African countries, the next panel featured a discussion with Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All; Hon. Okaasai Sidronius Opolot, Minister of State for Energy, Republic of Uganda; Andrew Kamau, Managing Director of International Programs, Energy Opportunity Lab, Center on Global Energy Policy; and moderated by CGEP Senior Research Scholar Jon Elkind. “There is no scenario where we can achieve our 2050 goals if we don’t achieve our 2030 goals,” said Ogunbiyi. “Sometimes people forget that and jump to net-zero – which is truly important. But we’re not going to do that with so many millions of people in energy poverty.”

Technological breakthroughs have the potential to accelerate the path to net-zero. This panel, moderated by Vijay Vaitheeswaran from the Economist, featured Emmanuel Lagarrigue, Partner, KKR Infrastructure; Dr. Arun Majumdar, Chester Naramore Dean of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability; Ann Mettler, Vice-President, Europe, Breakthrough Energy; Nobuo Tanaka, Chair, Steering Committee, Innovation for Cool Earth Forum. “This is why there is a big role for government here,” said Mettler. “The upfront cost of standing up clean technologies is massive. And I don’t think it’s realistic to just look at companies to carry that cost, precisely because the first mover advantage isn’t so visible, isn’t so palpable, as it is in other sectors.”

The next three sessions featured fireside chats with Jason Bordoff and Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of Blackrock; Fatih Birol, Executive Director, IEA; and Patrick Pouyanné, Chairman of the Board and CEO, TotalEnergies. 

On the global energy transition, Fink said, “I don’t believe we’ll have an adequate transition, unless we’re able to develop technologies to make sustainable and renewable energy fairly priced so we don’t create this big imbalance.”  

Birol talked about the need for greater international and multi-sectoral cooperation. He said, “If we want to solve our climate problem without forgetting energy security, I think we need to build a grand coalition. A grand coalition consisting of governments, energy companies, civil society, investors, who sincerely – I underline here sincerely – believe in the fight against climate change.”

From the perspective of one of the largest energy companies in the world, Pouyanné said, “it’s a big challenge for the energy transition: the synchronization between the demand and the supply. And the demand continues to grow. This is a real issue, because the only way to fix demand without supply is the price. Today if I want to invest in green energy, it makes more sense in the US than in Europe. We can invest in both, but we don’t have infinite capital to spend. But I encourage Europeans to do the same, and I think they have ways to find it. That’s competition.” 

In this session moderated by Amy Harder, editor of Cipher, Mads Nipper, CEO of Ørsted and Christian Bruch, CEO of Siemens Energy – talked about the challenges two leading energy companies face in developing, deploying, and scaling renewable energy infrastructure. “There are some very easy principles,” said Bruch. “Yes we have to build out renewables at a faster speed. Yes we need more investments in the grid than we would ever believe. Yes we should think on how to re-use existing energy infrastructure. And we need to do everything to drive efficiency and savings of energy.” 

The penultimate session centered around emerging economies. Akshat Rathi from Bloomberg moderated a discussion that featured: H.E. Leila Benali, Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, Government of Morocco; MA Jun, Founding Director, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE); Sumant Sinha, Chairman & CEO, ReNew Power. “One of the key issues that we are facing,” said Benali, “is that climate discussions are being held in one room, the biodiversity are being held in one room, and pollution and environmental issues are being held in another room. As long as we don’t view these issues in a very integrated way, I don’t think we will be able to find the right solutions to the biggest challenges of the 21st century.”

The last session looked at turbulent energy markets and how they are evolving to respond to geopolitical and climate concerns. Helima Croft, Managing Director and Head of Global Commodity Strategy and MENA Research, RBC Capital Markets, moderated this session with Vicki Hollub, President and Chief Executive Officer, Occidental; Shaikh Nawaf S. Al-Sabah, Deputy Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation; Scott D. Sheffield, CEO, Pioneer Natural Resources; and Charif Souki, Executive Chairman, Tellurian Inc. “We need an administration that will accept all forms of energy,” said Sheffield. “I’ve stated, and I’ve testified: we need nuclear; we need alternative energy – wind and solar; and we need hydrocarbons. We need it all, and we need an administration that supports the infrastructure that we need to implement all those across the board.”

CGEP Director of Research Melissa Lott delivered closing remarks: “As we look into the future, I want us to take the energy that we have developed today, all the learnings, and never underestimate the impact that we can have.”

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