Chung Rickwon, Nobel laureate for Russian leadership in green energy

Chung Rikwon, Nobel laureate and chair of the Global Energy Prize Committee, told RBC whether Russia has a place in the new green economy and what the country should do to remain competitive

About the expert: Jung Raekwon (more commonly translated as Rae Kwon Chung) is a former South Korean climate change ambassador and green energy expert. Since the early 1990s, he has been involved in climate change negotiations. In 2007, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and one of the lead authors of its report on technology transfer. In 2015-2016, he served as Senior Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on climate change issues. He is now Chairman of the International Prize Committee of the Russian Global Energy Prize and a member of the Board of Directors of the Ban Ki-moon Foundation.

The United Nations climate conference in Glasgow just ended. How do you rate its results?

– The main outcome and the main content of the conference is that it has started a “Great Race” in which the leaders of the carbon-neutral future will be identified. The world’s largest economies and companies have announced that they will accelerate their transition to a new green economy. This means that carbon neutrality is not about saving the planet, but about ensuring industrial competitiveness in the future: if you do not participate in the struggle to lead in green innovation, you will lose both in the struggle for the future of the industry and the new market.

Several countries and companies are already vying for the first mover advantage in this new blue ocean.

– You communicate a lot with people who make decisions about business transformation in Russia, so let’s talk about the role of our country in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. It is certainly easier for Russia to continue to use natural resources than to develop green energy, and there seems to be no impetus to change. Do you see short-term benefits of the carbon-neutral energy transition?

– Russia is really fortunate with such an abundance of natural resources, but this does not mean that it does not make sense to invest in “green” energy: without them, the country will miss a new market and the opportunity to introduce technology innovations necessary for its development. This, in turn, would stimulate economic growth and create new jobs – examples of the benefits that Russia would get right away.

It is important to view the carbon-neutral economy as a critical driver of Russia’s future competitiveness. The transition to green energy is an important strategy that will allow Russia to benefit from the country that entered the “race” as the first.

Are we talking about jobs for highly qualified professionals?

– Yes, working with most of these technologies will require highly qualified specialists – scientists and engineers who will be able to compete in the world market. So it will create high paying jobs.

– Does Russia have the potential to become a leader and exporter, for example, of solutions in the field of carbon capture and storage?

Carbon capture and storage technologies will be essential to allow continued use of fossil fuels without harming the planet. Russia can and should become a leader in such solutions because of its scientific and technical potential. Now these methods are already found all over the world, including in Russia, but innovative ways are also emerging that make it possible to do it cheaper and more efficiently. Russia is more than able to offer such methods if there is proactive activity on the part of the state and the business sector. Then investors and scientists alike will do so.

– What is the main factor in promoting the idea of ​​carbon neutrality?

– The role of the state here will be very important – not only in Russia, but also in other countries. The government should send a clear signal to society and business that it is ready to move toward carbon neutrality by setting ambitious targets and stringent legislative action to reduce emissions. Many governments are reluctant to take such action – they believe it will cost the industry dearly. But without such a signal from the state, investors and scientists would have no motivation. Therefore, attention should be paid to this dynamic in countries where legislation is being tightened, and most innovations appear. However, emissions reduction targets and changes in legislation should only be enough to drive companies to innovate and change the market, but not harm them.

How exactly can the state support this transformation? What do you see as a roadmap for the transition to a carbon-neutral future, for example, for Russia?

It is important for the government to show a consistent and predictable path to change legislative measures – in order to reduce uncertainty for business in investment planning.

For example, if the goal is to reduce emissions by 5% each year, this will allow companies to adjust to these goals in the investment plan. Without a predictable path, companies will view these initiatives as risks and challenges.

Going forward, it may be a good idea for the state to reallocate some of the revenue from fossil fuel sales to support the development of carbon-neutral technologies and the corresponding market. Perhaps the Russian authorities would be interested in considering such an option.

– Will these measures make it possible to intensify cooperation between Russia and other countries, as well as international companies?

– Yes. Russia’s role in the global economy is very important, and if it also begins to struggle for leadership in a carbon-neutral economy, this will be a serious signal for business around the world.

It is important to note that Russia will also be able to benefit from its presence in the hydrogen market, which is now being formed – thanks to reserves of natural gas, which is used to produce hydrogen. Gas is cheap, but hydrogen is much more expensive.

Countries such as Japan, Korea and the United States are planning to switch to hydrogen, but they may have problems with carbon capture and storage, and there will be enough carbon storage areas underground — the size of Russian land allows them to be a leader in this market. This will allow Russia to become the largest exporter of hydrogen, and not only natural gas.

Therefore, no one should think that the transition to carbon neutrality is very unprofitable for Russia. Indeed, it will create wonderful new opportunities for the Russian economy.

– Continuing to talk about international cooperation, it is worth noting another equally impressive project – Asia Super Grid (“Asian Super Grid”, a project aimed at transferring electricity from those Asian countries where it can be produced in an environmentally friendly way to those who need it. – RBC Trends). What do you think, what are the prospects for this project and what hinders its development?

– This project has been around for a long time, and there are many others similar to it, for example, in Northeast Asia – it is about ten years old – and the project I personally promoted: the Silk Road Supernet, which will connect Central Asia with China, Korea and Japan – It can extend to Europe.

These supernetworks could be useful in the transition to carbon neutrality. There are neither technical nor economic obstacles to the development of such projects: all these problems have long been solved. But, unfortunately, development is hampered by political factors and distrust, just as the solution of many other global problems: from the epidemic to the reduction of carbon emissions.

Can you tell us what are the political forces that oppose such projects?

“It is not about one or more countries. What is important is the political climate that does not allow discussion of such projects at the moment. It is necessary to get out of the state of political tension between countries – after which it will be possible to move on to the discussion of such large projects.

Can you give examples of projects in which countries are still able to cooperate successfully?

Countries around the world are successfully cooperating in the export of solar and wind energy. For example, the United States buys a lot of Korean-made solar panels. There are many examples of business cooperation. New technologies appear every day: for example, capturing carbon that has already entered the atmosphere – one of the largest such companies was launched recently in Iceland.

All of this is happening because, as I said before, the fight for leadership in a carbon-neutral economy has already begun. It is clear that the winner will be the one who joins them as quickly as possible, and does not follow the defeated path.

“To move towards a green economy around the world, significant investments are needed – and this applies not only to countries with the money, but also to developing countries. Developed countries have agreed to mobilize $100 billion annually to help poor countries transition to a zero-economy. Carbon, but still not able to achieve this goal.Do you think it will be possible to reach a decision?

– This issue was discussed at the climate conference in Glasgow – unfortunately not much progress was made and the decision was postponed. I’m skeptical about this, because the $100 billion a year figure was agreed upon in 2009, but that money has yet to be sent. There is still much debate about what this number means. Developing countries are waiting for gifts or donations, rich countries include investments, loans, etc. in this figure.

The difference between poor and rich countries is so great that it will not be easy to close it. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that there will be a significant transfer of resources from rich countries to poor countries: after all, they themselves need money to solve their problems. And if they can’t do that, they themselves need to cut their emissions even further so that poor countries can continue to develop the carbon economy.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a simple solution to this problem. One can only hope that humanity has learned a very valuable lesson from the pandemic – we need to pay more attention to cooperation. But I’m not sure we’ll learn that lesson in time.

We would like to thank the Nobel Vision Forum team for arranging the interview. Open Innovations 2.0

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