IEMA's CEO Sarah Mukherjee MBE reports from COP27 on the conversations around energy and moving away from fossil fuels to reach the 1.5 target.

Out of all the subjects covered in the thematic days during COP, you could argue that energy is the most contentious. The global need for energy has been highlighted by the current war in Ukraine, and the concomitant reduction in the availability of cheap Russian oil and gas in Europe, resulting in many countries subsiding citizens. Pretty much every human activity requires energy production at some point, whether it’s a morning coffee or vital medical equipment - and media outlets around the world are currently highlighting the terrible situation for many citizens who are being forced to heat or eat because of rising energy bills.

And - of course - central to this conversation at COP is the carbon impact of fossil fuels. We cannot carry on using fossil fuels to power our lifestyles and keep global heating to 1.5 degrees C. And there is no easy fix. I spoke to one delegate who was part of the original negotiating team for a developing country represented here. “We are still talking about mechanisms”, he said “ “There’s a lot of talk about new technology but where is the delivery?”

Well, he’s right about the new tech. Japan and Sweden have held presentations today about a hydrogen future, even for energy-intensive sectors such as steel. One delegate even has some steel produced using hydrogen in his pocket, which he produces at meetings. But this is presently small scale, and others are sceptical as to whether despite significant investment, much of it in Europe, hydrogen can bridge the gap left by fossil fuels.

Nuclear is supported by many scientists as part of the mix to get to net zero, and indeed there is a small stand in one of the pavilions dedicated to “no net zero without nuclear”. However, there are many NGOs and activists who say that this is not the answer. One campaigner from Micronesia spoke about the nuclear waste “dumped” near her home.

The need to move fast and find solutions leads to a vicious circle and the lack of delivery mentioned by my friend, the COP veteran. Business needs certainty to make investment decisions. Governments, however, are wary of “picking winners” in developing technologies and want businesses to lead the way and markets to show which technology they have confidence in.

But perhaps this is an overly pessimistic view. There are many energy experts here who think we are well on the way to a carbon-neutral, energy-efficient future.

Perhaps the man with the piece of steel in his pocket is onto something after all.

Photo of Sarah mukherjee
Sarah Mukherjee MBE


Sarah Mukherjee MBE is the CEO of IEMA. Previously Sarah was the BBC’s Environment correspondent, presenting on national and international BBC radio and television, winning awards across the world. After leaving the corporation, she held leadership roles in various sectors including utilities and agriculture. Sarah was a panel member for the National Parks Review and the Glover Review and also sat on the National Food Strategy Advisory Panel. She is co-chair of the Natural England Landscape Advisory Panel as well as Non-executive Director on the Board of the Environment Agency. In 2021 Sarah was awarded an MBE for her services to agriculture and farmer well-being.

Since joining IEMA Sarah has been instrumental in implementing a Diverse Sustainability Initiative (DSI) strategy.

In her spare time, Sarah enjoys martial arts, has been a 'Campaign for Real Ale' judge, as well as a rugby reporter.


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