Foreign AffairsSpeeches

Grant Shapps – 2023 Speech to the Atlantic Council at its Global Energy Forum

The speech made by Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in Abu Dhabi on 14 January 2023.

The UAE seems to be playing some part in my fate.

Last year, I found myself just 100 kilometres away from here.

But, far from the beaches and the skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it felt like a different world.

There, in the middle of the desert, I saw a sparkling sea of a different kind.

The deep blue shine of millions of photovoltaic panels in the sun, generating hundreds of megawatts of renewable electricity.

Panels which will eventually become part of one of the largest solar plants in the world.

I had little idea then that fate would return me here only a year later as the Minister responsible for energy.

Today, some things remain the same; the UAE is still right at the cutting edge in generating low-cost solar power on a frankly stunning scale. Right here in Abu Dhabi, they’re breaking fresh records in solar technology at Al Dhafra and Shams.

But much has changed, and not just for me.

In many ways, we find ourselves in a different world.

The last time this forum convened, Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine was just beginning.

Now, we face a winter which, for many in Europe, is overshadowed by concern about falling energy supplies and rising prices…

…a winter when households have had to think twice before turning up the thermostat…

…when factories have been forced to pause production…

…when inflation has rocketed…

and growth has slowed.

It is also a winter that comes at the end of a year that saw flooding in Pakistan…

…heatwaves in the UK…

…and bomb cyclones in the US.

A year when we began to feel the likely impacts of climate change in earnest.

There is much about the last twelve months that I could not have foreseen back then.

And looking forward to 2023, the future is far from clear; I certainly wouldn’t want to make too many predictions.

But – putting matters of predestination aside – there’s one thing we can be sure of: energy matters now more than ever.

So where do we go from here?

Perhaps we are best off starting with the ways that world has changed for the better in 2022.

Off our Eastern coast, we completed Hornsea Two – the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

There, you will find over a hundred turbines.

At their very highest point, they are a dizzying 200m above the stormy seas below.

For those of you who have visited the Zayed Sports City Stadium, that’s almost the height of two football pitches stacked on top of each other.

Just a single rotation of one of these turbines generates enough electricity to power a home for 24 hours.

But Hornsea Two is far from our first success – because we’re home to the world’s second, third, and fourth largest wind farms, too.

Today, all of them are capturing the high winds of the North Sea, in a year when we beat our record for wind power generation three times.

And across the Atlantic in California, we’ve witnessed another extraordinary achievement.

Just a month ago, scientists at the Laurence Livermore National Laboratory announced one of the most significant energy breakthroughs in living memory.

Aiming 192 high-powered lasers at a tiny spherical capsule just 2mm wide, they were able to harness the same reactions that power the sun and stars to demonstrate fusion ignition, proving what until now had only existed in theory and paving the way towards what could be one day a near-limitless source of energy for the future. And back in the UK, we’re taking leaps of our own.

We’re not just developing our very own fusion power plant, a ‘spherical tokamak’ on the site of an old coal power station in the Midlands. We are also operating the Joint Energy Torus, the most powerful fusion facility in the world and taking the lead in regulating and commercialising fusion technology, working out the best way to get it out of the lab and into the real market place, and into the world.

These are stories of entrepreneurs and innovators, working together to deliver clean, secure energy for millions, and jobs for thousands more.

Stories that tell us that the fates of energy security, net zero, and the economic growth are inseparably intertwined.

Dependable supplies of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, have a crucial role to play in easing the energy transition, which we just heard about in the discussion on stage.

But it is only by harnessing the power of transformative green technologies that we can build a global energy system that is fit for the future.

Whether that’s in the UK, where we’re developing small modular reactors which promise to make nuclear easier, faster, and cheaper… and we have been running them in the sea for the last six days.

…or here in Abu Dhabi, where operations have begun at the Barakah nuclear power plant, the first nuclear power plant not just in the UAE but in the whole Arab world, expected to deliver up to a quarter of the nation’s electricity needs when fully up and running…

…and where, last week, ADNOC announced $15bn to accelerate its decarbonisation strategy, investing in everything from energy efficiency and electrification to carbon capture.

Now yesterday, I signed a Clean Energy Memorandum between the UK and the UAE to promote energy security and investment between our two nations.

Agreements like this matter. Because when it comes to climate change, the whole world has a stake. And none of us should have to settle for less.

So working together really matters…

…to deliver a low-carbon future that isn’t just more secure and more prosperous…

…but a future that is fairer is a future I think that is worth fighting for.

Our International Climate Finance has already provided an astonishing 58 million people with improved access to clean energy since 2011.

But we are delivering on our pledge to double it up to at least £11.6bn from 2021, reaching tens of millions more.

Because the Green Industrial Revolution must not leave anyone behind.

After all, you can’t just shut down your power stations and be done with it, leaving millions without energy or employment.

That’s where Just Energy Transition Partnerships come in. They are mobilising billions to support the transition from coal power to clean growth in key economies like South Africa and Indonesia.

And, by investing in new green energy supplies, electric vehicles, and hydrogen, they are providing security and opportunity for communities across these countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have to say it is fitting that we are here in the UAE, 2023’s COP28 President elect Sultan Al Jaber and his great leadership and speech this morning. Because it is here that we are seeing and building on the extraordinary progress that has been made since Glasgow, built on in Egypt, but this year we will have to see those real developments, in this stocktake COP taking place in November and December.

We face challenges the likes of which no generation has ever faced before.

Let me just take you briefly back to that solar sea in the desert that I talked about visiting last year.

Today, they’re building the tallest solar tower in the entire world.

Concentrating the heat reflected by tens of thousands of moving mirrors onto a single point, it will be a shining a beacon hundreds of meters above the ground – and a lighthouse above the blue beneath.

Innovations like these -creating powers in new ways –  must  be an inspiration for us all, guiding us towards a better energy technology of tomorrow.

But none of this can be done alone. None of it can be done alone.

I have talked today about fate, not just my fate but also your fate – or our joint fates.

And I said before that we could only be certain of one thing: energy matters more today than it ever has done in the history of humanity.

In the face of great challenges, we have no oracles to turn to…

…nor do I have any Delphic maxims to offer.

But, without climbing the steps of Mount Parnassus, or any other high mountain, I think there is one thing that we can be absolutely sure of…we will succeed as humanity in doing this.

One thing I can’t be certain of is my fate, other than to say, I know the UAE will continue to be a big part of it and I can predict with absolute confidence that I will be back here in December. I look forward to seeing you all at COP28. Thank you very much.