Shifting the Focus from Fossil Fuels to Renewable Futures at COP28 with Gemma Regniez, Head of Communications and Advocacy at the IHA

Elinor Lara, Senior Consultant in the Corporate Affairs practice at tml Partners recently spoke to Gemma Regniez, Head of Communications and Advocacy at the International Hydropower Association about her experience at COP28 in Dubai. They delved into the event’s overarching narrative – the battle between fossil fuels and renewables,  the goals and achievements of the Global Renewables Alliance, the challenges around workforce dynamics and of course, the role that Communications teams play in underpinning and supporting these goals.


From the outside looking in, this was always going to be a controversial COP – taking place in the UAE, Dr Sultan al-Jaber, chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) as COP28 president-designate. You really couldn’t get away from the fossil fuels story. We’ve heard a lot of debate around the language used in the final deal around fossil fuels – “phasing down” versus “phasing out”. Can you give us your perspectives?


A lot of people came to this COP with a large chunk of scepticism about what it was going to be about. Why is it being held in Dubai? What message does that send to the world in terms of the commitment to 1.5 and the clean energy transition and all the various elements that we’re working towards?

Yes, there has been a big focus on fossil fuels, the debate, or dare I say it, the fight between phasing out or the phasing down of the use of fossil fuels. Frequently COP does end up – at least on the political side – coming down to one or two words. It was the same for COP26, and we’re in a very similar position for this one.


It feels like all the talk around fossil fuels has distracted somewhat from the renewables agenda. Perhaps you can share the headlines on the renewables side to come out of COP?


Yes, so this is where the positive side comes in. For the Global Renewables Alliance (GRA) family, of which the International Hydropower Association (IHA) is a member, we have been focused on the narrative and messaging for the “Double down, Triple Up” pledge, which essentially means encouraging countries and the world’s leaders to double down on efficiency, but triple up on renewable energy capacity by 2030.

To date, we’ve got more than 130 countries that have signed up to that pledge, and that happened halfway through the first week. So that was a real positive for us, and a real sign that renewables is absolutely part of the conversation.

Perhaps fossil fuels have dominated somewhat. But renewables are right there as a solution.


In terms of the “Double Down, Triple Up” pledge, the simplicity of the message is critical to cutting through the noise at COP.  Can you tell us more about the campaign and how it developed?


Yes, so I mentioned the Global Renewables Alliance. which launched at last year’s COP. It’s a coming together of all of the renewables family. Not just water, wind and sun, but also the storage side, green hydrogen side, thermal. It’s about everybody coming together to really amplify this single message and a single campaign to push change through.

So the Double Down, Triple Up pledge is really the brainchild of the GRA and the CEO of the GRA, Bruce Douglas, who’s been spearheading the campaign with the support of the other CEOs from across the renewables industry.


What do you feel we need to make sure this pledge translates into action?


There’s a real focus around accountability and action to get these elements done. Pledges are great, but it’s really about accountability and action.

We have set out four key areas that the renewables family needs to set us up for success and drive forward this agenda. These are: streamlined permitting processes, stronger supply chains, expanded grids, and accessible finance.

On the sustainable hydropower side, permitting and licensing is a particular push for us, and we’ve been working in partnership with the Planet for Climate Commission to push that coalition forward this year, and to really work in partnership to drive forward that permitting and licensing piece.

You’ll frequently hear from Malcolm Turnbull, President of IHA, that the solutions are here. The technology is here. Everything is in place, the one thing we don’t have is time.

And so we’ve got to get on with it.


Talking of getting the job done, I think one of the critical elements in the transition is workforce. In a very competitive labour market, how do we make the industry appealing? And what is the role of Communications teams in delivering that?


I think the renewables space is an incredibly exciting place to be. I’ve worked within sustainability and climate change throughout my career, and I’ve always wanted to be very much involved in an area that was 100% concentrated on the solutions.

I think anyone that’s looking for a career in a mission-focused industry, that will really make a difference, then look no further than renewables!

In terms of future workforces, at the IHA, we have just signed a partnership agreement with Student Energy, an organisation focused on promoting renewable energy as a viable career opportunity and a solution to climate change to youth groups and organisations across the world.

We also need to encourage more women to join the industry, particularly on the engineering side, which is a shared problem, not just in the renewable energy space, but more broadly across the energy sector. We need to show women why this is a totally viable career option for them.

Indeed, we’ve got many women on our board at the IHA, who are from all different backgrounds, both from the communications side, but also all the way through to the engineering side and they have thrived in this industry.


It’s great to hear you talk so positively about so many areas of the renewables industry. Coming back to COP, the headlines, the challenges, the opportunities… are you optimistic about the future?


I’m in the stubborn optimist camp. I’m always pushing forward and embracing opportunities.

There’s a huge amount to do and time is running out, but we all have a role to play: governments, industry, NGOs, and consumers.

The solutions are there, the technology is there, we just need to keep pushing forward.

Who are tml Partners?

tml Partners are marketing and communications recruitment specialists with access to a global network of marketing and comms leaders.

To learn how tml Partners can help you, get in touch with Elinor Lara who specialises in the Energy sector:

+44 (0) 203 908 4443

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