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A Turning Point ever sold: International Energy Chief Fatih Birol on the Climate Crisis and New Opportunities

Global leaders have argued for a long time that the urgency of addressing climate change and the long-term opportunity of investments in renewables would ultimately drive a transition from fossil fuels to completely clean energy.

With the addition of security concerns to the equation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine early this season has accelerated the move, says Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, and could serve as a turning point in the annals of energy policy.

Considering all of the numbers daily around the world, I visit a new global energy economy is emerging, he said in a Sept. 13 interview. That is wind, that is efficiency, that is heat pumps, that is nuclear power, that is hydrogen, among others.

The data of the accelerating transition to a fresh energy economy is everywhere around the world as policy makers react to pressures on multiple fronts. Birol cited the $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S., the $210 billion RePowerEU program in europe, and the $146 billion Green Transformation program in Japan. All three depend on government spending to foster low-carbon energy sources at the trouble of fossil fuels and advance the countries promises to lessen emissions.

The result of this global energy crisis may become that fossil fuels, every one of them, have an outlook less optimistic than it had been before, says Birol.

Beyond their climate and security implications, these massive government programs have a competitive focus as countries push for the creation of domestic clean energy manufacturing. An IEA report released this past year discovered that global investment in clean energy could total $4 trillion annually by 2030 if countries pursue rapid decarbonizationand countries desire to capture just as much of this market as you possibly can. This competition helps [address] climate change, Birol says. We dont know who’ll be leading, this or that technology, and which countriesis it Europe?, could it be China?, could it be america? But by the end of your day, we will note that the global fight climate change will benefit.

The jockeying for advantage will need years to play out, however, and for the time being countries must grapple with short-term pain as energy prices skyrocket, particularly in Europe. In the centre of the issue are gas prices, which rose nearly 500% in Europe from the times right before the invasion to mid-summer as Russia reduced its shipments of the fuel via pipeline to Europe. Prices have fallen in reaction to the EUs intend to get through the wintertime, but observers remain concerned a harsh winter would result in economic and political trouble.

Birol said that the power crunch precipitated by Russia cutting off gas supplies to Europe produces a large challenge with energy rationing and unwanted effects on economic growth both likely. Still, he said he could be most worried about the political effects of the power crisis. If countries in europe support one another with agreements for gas and electricity trading they’ll emerge with reduced bruises. However, countries might act only within their individual self interest, which may not merely worsen the power crisis but additionally hurt the EUs credibility more broadly. EUROPE is currently at a crossroads with regards to how we are likely to react to this crisis, he said.

Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com.

Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com.

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