Impressions from COP22: Energy access and climate change through the energy-water-food nexus

Tinashe Mawodza was one of three Grantham Scholars who joined the University of Sheffield’s delegation to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Here, he reports from one of the events that our Director, Professor Tony Ryan OBE, took part in.

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Tinashe Mawodza
Tinashe Mawodza

At the United Nations Conference on Climate Chance (COP22) in Marrakech, the Grantham Centre took part in a panel side event, ‘Energy access and climate change through the energy-water-food nexus’, organised by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). The moderator, Faris Hasan is the Director of Corporate Planning and Economic Services at OFID and broke the ice with a proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together”. This captures OFID’s stance on the need for an all-inclusive nexus, connecting energy, water and food, in sustainable development.

The first speaker was David Carroll, President of the International Gas Union (IGU). He explained his view that natural gas is essential in the transition from more traditional fossil fuels such as coal and oil to cleaner and more sustainable energy alternatives. He suggested that natural gas could be used as a complimentary energy source to more sustainable solar and wind technologies. Although they help to reduce our carbon footprint, solar and wind power are often unreliable and therefore are currently unsustainable in isolation, he explained. David pinpointed the need for megacities in the developing world to embrace the natural gas to minimise rampant air pollution, thus improving environmental quality in these cities.

Our Director, Professor Tony Ryan, spoke next. He gave an interesting overview of how interconnected the sustainability system is, highlighting the importance of co-operation between different sectors to achieving holistic global sustainability. Tony also noted that current proven techniques and technologies had the capacity to provide possible solutions to global sustainability problems, but that the major challenge was engaging policymakers to craft and implement legislation that is in line with recommendations given by researchers.

Martin Hiller, Director General of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) followed Tony. In his talk, he focused on the need for changes in farming methods to facilitate irrigation schemes powered by solar instead of fossil fuels. He also emphasised the need for investment in clean energy supplies for smallholder farmers in the developing world. Philipp Knill form the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development echoed this with an example of how his government has investmented in energy provision for developing nations, in particular in West Africa, and highlighted the need for other development partners to assist in the initiatives that his government was embarking on.

The final speaker, Aurel Lübke, CEO of Compost Systems, focused on the engineering behind composting. He pointed out how large landfills in many cities could be minimised by composting technologies that save on space and can provide energy to fuel other agricultural sectors, such as fertiliser manufacturing.

The audience was highly stimulated by these talks from the diverse range of panelists, and questions were asked on how effective natural gas, a fossil fuel, would be in mitigating climate change, as well as the lagging role of politics in achieving global sustainability. The panel were in agreement that natural gas provided a first step rather than an ultimate solution to the Earth’s climate change woes.