Energy diplomats ponder the best paths ahead in the shadow of a Disney cruiseliner

The LNG2023 conference in Vancouver contends with the energy 'trilemma,' writes Stewart Muir in Business in Vancouver.

The Disney Wonder sails into Vancouver. Photo by Sukhwant Dhillon.

Amidst the intellectual whirlwind of the LNG2023 forum in the Vancouver Convention Centre on Monday, one could not help but notice the classic lines of the Disney Wonder moored at adjacent Canada Place, its mildly cartoonish colour scheme enhancing the postcard scene with no Instagram filter needed.

The cruise ship, a marvel of human engineering and a symbol of leisure, stood as an eloquent reminder of the stark contrasts that our world presents us with, even as a clutch of international minds deliberated inside the convention centre at a diplomatic forum within LNG2023.

Their topic could be summarized as what to do about the energy trilemma facing humanity: how to power society in ways that are secure, affordable and sustainable.

It’s hard to think of a more apt metaphor than the Disney Wonder for the contrasting realities of energy abundance and scarcity. Those on the cruise enjoy a world where energy is a given, a resource as readily available as the sumptuous buffets on their decks. In contrast, for many nations of the Global South, energy remains a luxury, a scarce commodity for which they must constantly grapple. Their citizens live in a world where access to energy can mean the difference between poverty and prosperity, survival and progress.

A vessel powered by the very fossil fuels that the forum seeks to manage better, the Disney Wonder is both a product of our current energy regime and a symbol of the immense, almost Herculean, task of transforming that regime towards sustainability.

It was clear from the voices of Global South countries at the forum that easy bromides like “go renewable” might be easy to shout from the railings of the Disney Wonder. Sure, one can say everyone else should take a sailboat instead up the Inside Passage, but what if there’s no wind?

This duality between the Disney Wonder and the diplomatic forum serves as a sobering reminder of the inequalities that continue to pervade our global energy landscape. It also underscores the pressing need for more inclusive and equitable energy policies, ones that allow for all nations, especially those in the Global South, to secure their energy future.

A communiqué issued by the diplomatic forum stated what is already plain to see: “It is clear that there can be no energy transition without Asia and the rest of the Global South,” states the communiqué issued today by conference organizers. “And the Global South will approach the transition in their own way.”

Alas, spending too long aboard the wealthy world’s Disney Wonder without spells ashore can make some of us goofy. It did not go unremarked that Canada’s energy minister decided the LNG conversation wasn’t worth the commute from his home constituency of North Vancouver and stayed away.

Around the Global South today, it’s as if a hundred Disney Wonders are being built, and the best all round outcome is they’ll be ones based on natural gas. Hiding from the conversation, or explaining that others will have to make do with rowboats or canoes, is not going to cut it. The alternative to LNG is not renewables, it’s coal. 

As a gas supplier, Canada can support the trend by adding low carbon intensity LNG to the global mix.

The road ahead is not without its hurdles. The LNG industry faces a pressing call to minimize its environmental footprint. The demand for low-carbon, responsibly-sourced LNG has spiked, especially from carbon-conscious markets like Europe and some Asian nations. Many of us wish to fully understand the interplay between natural gas and hydrogen, the latter being the emerging darling of clean, reliable energy yet has an immense number of challenges still ahead of its mass commercialization.

The path to resolving the energy trilemma demands an alliance that spans borders, sectors, and societies. We must look at each energy project through the prism of the trilemma: Is it cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable than its predecessors? Those not aboard the Disney Wonder are dying to find out. It’s a small world, after all.

Stewart Muir is the CEO of Resource Works Society. This article originally appeared in Business in Vancouver.

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