The Middle East Policy Council held its 111th Capitol Hill Conference virtually on Friday, January 20, 2023, on the topic “Energy Transition and the Future of Energy in the Middle East.”
In November of 2022, a delegation from the Middle East Policy Council visited the Gulf and had the opportunity to be briefed by government and energy company officials on their approach to the issue of energy transition. During these briefs, these officials conveyed their appreciation for the need to participate in energy transition sparked by efforts to combat climate change. Thus, in light of global and regional developments, the Council identified this as an ideal time to address this topic with the MEPC policy community.
Ambassador Richard J. Schmierer (former U.S. Ambassador to Oman; President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council) introduced the event and provided context, and Ms. Bassima Alghussein (Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council) moderated the discussion. The panelists were: Ms. Melanie Kenderdine (Principal, Executive Vice President, Energy Futures Initiative; Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center; Former Energy Counselor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Department of Energy), Dr. Kaushik Deb (Senior Research Scholar, Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs), and Ms. Tofol Al-Nasr (Partner, Daleelaq Consulting; 2023 40 Under 40 Awardee, Middle East Policy Council; Former Diplomat, OPEC; Former Executive, ExxonMobil; Qatar Energy).
Ms. Kenderdine outlined the role of natural gas and traditional energy in a deeply decarbonized world, with a specific focus on the Middle East-North Africa region. She highlighted the relevancy of region-specific factors, such as high global warming rates and acute water scarcity concerns, noting specifically that nuclear energy and green hydrogen production both require large volumes of water. She discussed the Energy Future Initiative’s launch of its Global Gas Phase 1 and Phase 2 studies, which bring together experts in the fields of natural gas and energy for collaborative workshops. This research reiterated the global community's support of clean energy innovations and anticipation that natural gas reliance will decrease over time and enable a renewable energy future. While reception to renewable energy is positive, Ms. Kenderdine noted that natural gas demand in MENA is expected to more than double by 2040, with most of the demand growth being driven by power generation and industrial needs.
Dr. Deb addressed the Middle East’s particular relevancy amid energy transition efforts, citing that the region accounts for about 50% of the world’s proven oil reserves and over 40% of proven gas reserves. He discussed the variation in research on peak global oil consumption as sources predict consumption to increase until between the mid 2030s and 2050 before hitting a decline. Despite this uncertainty on timeline, the region has persisted with energy transition initiatives through economic restructuring, such as Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision, and New Kuwait 2035. Countries are also actively working towards lower carbon intensive production, economic diversification, investments in carbon capture and sequestration, and production and distribution of hydrogen. Dr. Deb also highlighted that crude oil production over the next decade will increase. Saudi Arabia, for example, plans to increase its maximum sustained production capacity to 13.4 million barrels per day. He concluded by elaborating on the current dynamic of sanctioned Russian oil and gas which has propelled a realignment between the major oil and gas exporters in the Middle East and oil and gas importing countries, especially in the EU.
Ms. Al-Nasr addressed the fluidity of energy-conversations, reminding the audience that peak oil theory was a popular discussion topic until the United States became a net energy exporter, competing with Qatar and Australia for the position of top LNG exporter. She identified the current research trend as a dichotomy between where we would like to be as a global community — reaching Paris agreement targets, achieving carbon neutrality, and decarbonizing our economies and societies — and where we are. However, Ms. Nasr explained that the rise in global population and the demand for fast, accessible energy presents a competing consideration to energy transition objectives. The increasing need for equitable access to energy as a vital resource for socioeconomic development further complicates the issue of energy transition. Ms. Nasr asserted that natural gas undoubtably plays an important role in meeting global energy demand in a cleaner, safer way.
Principal, Executive Vice President, Energy Futures Initiative
Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center
Former Energy Counselor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Department of Energy
Senior Research Scholar, Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs
Partner, Daleelaq Consulting
2023 40 Under 40 Awardee, Middle East Policy Council
Former Diplomat, OPEC
Former Executive, ExxonMobil; Qatar Energy