(Re-) Claiming Energy’s Leadership

The previous year in particular has shown that our energy systems are not fit for the challenges of the present and the future, and that there is a clear lack of a widely accepted, positive and transformative vision in the global discourse. As the first major energy related event in 2023, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week – ADSW set the stage for the solution-focused energy conversations that we need to navigate through the current tumultuous times. Not only do we need to reduce the energy systems’ carbon footprint, but we also need to ensure that a growing and more wealthy population is supplied with affordable, clean, and secure (Trilemma positive) energy.

Award ceremony of the Zayed Sustainability Prize

Paving the way for real action in the sustainability agenda, ADSW left me with a lot of positive impressions. After the disturbances in the past year(s), the energy sector seems to be hopeful again, and it is eager to move beyond single indicator sustainability metrics. It is willing to leave its reactive and passive role in climate debates and ready to start working pro-actively on future-proof solutions. Young people and other previously overlooked stakeholder groups were put in the spotlight and given the opportunity to actively shape the conversations. What we see is that energy finally starts to re-claim its position as a driver of progress, change, and wellbeing through taking the lead in sustainability – not only climate – debates. Rightly so, the United Arab Emirates, ADSW’s and next COP’s host country, is ready to move from its high dependency on fossil fuels and set the climate agenda through proactively shaping sustainability.

The upcoming year until World Energy Congress 2024 in Rotterdam will show if these impressions were just isolated highlights in a very different landscape, or if the energy sector is indeed (re-) claiming its leadership position. This also calls for new energy narratives and visions for the future – one of those being humanising energy – that can counter the dystopian climate prophecies we currently see. ADSW, COP 28, and the World Energy Congress are intermediate, but essential steps into redefining the energy sector’s role in climate debates – it is not the bad guy in class but the enabler for human wellbeing. While COP 28 will be the global stocktake of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the World Energy Congress 2024 will be the global stocktake of the energy system’s ability to redesign itself. For people AND planet.

Ivo Wakounig 

Impact and Sustainability Adviser at World Energy Council

Future Sustainability Leader of Youth 4 Sustainability (Y4S) at Masdar