Interview with H.E. Mr Patrick Simonnet, Ambassador, European Union Delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the Sultanate of Oman

Interview with H.E. Mr Patrick Simonnet, Ambassador, European Union Delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the Sultanate of Oman

January 16, 2021 - 18:54
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The Network had the opportunity to hold an interesting interview with H.E. Mr Patrick Simonnet, Ambassador, European Union Delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Sultanate of Oman. H.E. the Ambassador highlights the challenges and the opportunities that the energy transition and climate change bring for Europe and the GCC countries. He also reflects on the impact of the covid19 pandemic in changing our priorities and on the need to move towards more sustainable, climate friendly and resilient approaches in all sectors.

Q: In the context of the EU Green Deal, climate change is a key driver for Europe’s energy transition. How would you evaluate the current progress? 
The EU has put in place a comprehensive framework of policies and mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Notably, between 1990 and 2018, the EU reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23%, while the economy grew by 61%. Despite these efforts, in November 2019, the EU Parliament declared a climate emergency asking for more action to be taken. In response, the EU Commission unveiled the European Green Deal, a roadmap for Europe to become a climate-neutral continent by 2050. The European Green Deal is our plan to make the EU's economy sustainable. We can do this by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities and making the transition just and inclusive for all. The European Green Deal contributes to the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, as well as of the Sustainable Development Goals. To turn our political commitment into a legal obligation, we have also proposed the European Climate Law.  A very important concrete instrument we have is the Emissions Trading System (ETS). This instrument covers greenhouse gas emissions for large-scale facilities particularly in the power and industry sectors, as well as the aviation sector since these sectors account for about 40% of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions. 

Q:The leaders of the G20 have endorsed the concept of the “Circular “Carbon Economy” (CCE) as a platform to cut CO2 emissions in all sectors of the economy including the energy sector while it is developed as a sustainable framework for economic growth. In this context, how would the CCE contribute to sustainable development goals (SDGs)? And what possibilities it gives to the EU-GCC cooperation? 
In the EU we have already adopted a plan focusing on the design and production for a circular economy, ensuring that resources used stay in the EU economy for as long as possible. The plan aims to reduce the EU’s consumption footprint, double its circular material use rate, and contribute to economic decarbonization by reducing the EU’s carbon and material footprint. It is also worth mentioning that low-carbon - blue or green – hydrogen is part of the new European hydrogen strategy as a key enabler of the CCE. The Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe, which is central to the European Green Deal, seeks to ensure that the economy is fit for a green future and strengthen competitiveness while protecting the environment. It introduces legislative and non-legislative measures and target areas where action at the EU level brings added value. The G20 Energy Ministers have endorsed the Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) framework that builds on the principles of circular economy and applies them to managing carbon emissions by using the 4R principles: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Remove. The CCE offers a holistic, inclusive, and pragmatic approach to managing emissions, with the ultimate goal of reducing the stock of carbon in the atmosphere in the most economically efficient way. With its benefits, it will open a multitude of cooperation opportunities between industry stakeholders in the GCC and the EU. 

Q: All people are talking about the energy transition. What do you consider as opportunities for Europe and the GCC? Benefits of EU's hydrogen strategy for the GCC? Benefits of EU-GCC cooperation on this and what are the next steps? 
Clean energy has become a major growth sector as countries around the world have increasingly looked to transition to low emission energy systems. The EU and the GCC are both committed to progress toward a low emission and sustainable goals. However, this shift needs to progress substantially if they are to meet the Paris agreement goals. This means that the energy sector should undergo a deep transformation over the next few decades. This shift should however be carried out in all the sectors of the economy. Indeed, sectoral coupling and a more integrated approach towards the clean energy transition is required in a number of sectors such as buildings, transport and industry. Moreover, the development of smart grids, distributed energy systems and digitalisation will enable the massive introduction of clean energy technologies and therefore facilitate a smooth energy transition. In this context, the EU is seeking to further its strategic relationship with the GCC countries. 
Current EU GCC relations are based on a Cooperation Agreement dating from 1988 which aims at broadening economic and technical cooperation, including in the fields of energy, industry, trade and services, agricultural, fisheries, investment, science, technology and environment. A number of technical working groups exist inter alia in the fields of the energy, economic affairs, air and transport. In the field of energy, the EU GCC Energy Expert Group meets regularly to set up the directions for opportunities of cooperation particularly in clean energy topics. As part  of this process, the EU GCC Clean Energy Technology Network was established, currently funded by the EU, with the aim of maintaining and strengthening the cooperation between the European Union and the GCC in the area of sustainable “clean” energy, renewables, energy efficiency and clean fuels such Hydrogen, among others, with climate change as a cross cutting topic. 

Q: We know that current COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down investment in low-carbon energy sector. What impact do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the global investment in clean energy in the medium and long terms? And what change are we expecting in managing energy? 
A: The pandemic created challenges as well as opportunities for energy transition. Renewable energy has been more resilient than other sectors during this period. The global use of renewable energy saw an increase of 1.5% worldwide in all sectors between 1Q19 and 1Q20. However, IEA estimates that the lockdown could set back the 2020 renewable energy investment and capacity by as much as 18% and 13%, compared to last year. Long-term energy outlooks scenarios have been carried out by various entities and we are confident that it will be a rise in the low carbon markets in the coming years. The pandemic may accelerate the transition from fossil fuels economy, but it will differ from a country to another depending on country circumstances and also how each country will manage the conflict between reviving the economy and continuing the decarbonization of its key economy sectors. Global energy demand may bounce back to the pre-pandemic levels in few years, but it will depend on how fast we control the pandemic. In this context our energy system should move towards a more integrated, sustainable, and resilient approach in which we should reinforce the usage of technologies and measures such as:

  • Energy efficiency – notably in the buildings and industry sectors
  • Renewable power generation – notably wind & solar
  • Electric vehicles
  • Smart Infrastructure & Storage
  • Green Hydrogen

Q:​Digitalisation has become a key focus in the energy sector. Why is it so important at this historical time? How can digitalisation and new technologies boost the clean energy economy? 
The pace of digitalisation in energy is increasing. Investment in digital technologies by energy companies has risen sharply over the last few years. Digital technologies are widely used in energy end-use sectors such as autonomous cars, intelligent home systems, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing. These technologies could reduce the energy intensity of providing goods and services and stimulate the emergence of new clean energy market niches.In addition, digitalisation and artificial intelligence could be used to monitor energy consumption, store energy more efficiently, and improve grid stability. It will certainly enable the introduction of smart grids and facilitate electricity trade between countries but also between local utilities, customers and corporate customers. 

Q: What are the perspectives of the EU cooperation with KSA, Bahrain and Oman? 
The EU has many common interests with the countries of the region. For reasons of geography, we share the same neighborhood and interest for peace and stability, whether in the Gulf region itself, the wider Middle East or the Red Sea and Horn of Africa. We have also strong trade and economic links with the GCC, the EU being still its first provider of foreign direct investment and second trade partner. Finally, sharing a number of challenges, including climate change, the impact of the pandemic, the green and digital transition, we have a genuine interest for effective cooperation. The Cooperation Arrangements that we have with each of those countries now (we are about to sign the one with KSA in a matter of weeks) are aimed at structuring and deepening our bilateral engagement around political and security issues of common interests (regional matters, fight against terrorism etc.) but also areas of cooperation with great potential. Among those areas, economic cooperation features high and can yield benefits for both sides, each engaged in far reaching modernization, diversification and transition processes (EU green deal, KSA 2030 Vision, etc.).Each bilateral framework (cooperation arrangement, human rights dialogue etc.) will work hand in hand with our longstanding EU-GCC framework, reinforcing each other. The EU-GCC framework is now brought back to its full potential with the recent resolution of the rift at the Al Ula summit in Saudi Arabia on 5 January 2021.

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