“Energy Transition” has become an even more urgent topic with the approaching COP28 climate conference. New S&P Global study “Shaping a Living Roadmap for the Energy Transition”argues that the idea of “linear energy transition” needs to be replaced with “multidimensional energy transition” that will be inclusive of different starting points in different parts of the world, of diversity in policy approaches, and will be equitable.

The study, undertaken with the International Energy Forum, is the result of a series of roundtable held around the world that aimed to capture a wide spectrum of perspectives on the energy transition. That includes the growing North-South divide on how to reduce emissions while meeting other sustainable development goals and promoting economic growth in the developing countries of the Global South, where per capita incomes are only a fraction of those in the industrial Global North. 

Developments over the last two years – price and supply shocks, geopolitical crises, and tensions in the global energy system – have rendered the energy transition more complex as climate goals coexist with energy security, energy access, energy poverty, affordability, and other priorities. Many of the participants in the roundtables argued that focusing on a singular linear pathway to achieving net zero emissions could undermine the achievement of other sustainability objectives, create disruptions, constrain financing for critical energy projects, and put at risk public support for climate policies.

Focusing on a linear transition understates the challenge of transitioning a $100 trillion world economy in just a quarter century with countries at many different stages of economic development. “The path to net-zero,” the report says, “will have to travel via the Global South and therefore it in everybody’s interest to collaborate and cooperate for the shared goals.” Participants in the roundtables argued that countries in Global South have little responsibility for the historical accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere but are expected to transition rapidly over the next 30 years while also increasing incomes and GDP. And they will need a lot more energy to deliver that economic growth.

Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of S&P Global, is the author of “The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations.”