Columbia University, towards a zero-emissions future

Columbia University, towards a zero-emissions future

A two-day conference was held in Columbia University, to discuss global warming and the necessary measures to implement the objectives defined by yet another conference: the United Nations Paris Climate Conference held in December 2015.


A two-day conference was held in one of the Columbia University conference rooms – between the walls that were home to prominent alumni such as US presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama, as well as teacher Nobel Prize physicist Enrico Fermi – to discuss global warming and the necessary measures to implement the objectives defined by yet another conference: the United Nations Paris Climate Conference held in December 2015.

Economists, presidents and the CEOs of major international companies, representatives of institutions and jurists gathered to analyse both the present and the immediate future. Namely Morocco, where the new UN climate conference, COP22, will be held from November 7 to 18, to draw a roadmap for the sustainable future of our planet. The road from Paris to Marrakech made a 48-hour detour to New York.

“All companies with power plants that produce CO2 have seen what happened in Paris – said Enel CEO Francesco Starace, who spoke at the New York meeting during the panel The Future for Fossil Fuels – For the first time ever, the world has come to an agreement: climate change is real and it is caused by human activity. Investing in the development of infrastructures that generate greenhouse gas emissions, and which must necessarily be operational for the next 30 years, is a very rash decision. Its risks increase over time, and it is therefore not very rational.”


Strategies Based on Sustainability 

The conference participants discussed sustainability as a business system in order to identify strategies and suggest the necessary measures to allow businesses to fight global warming: “Companies that operate exclusively in the thermal power sector – Starace added – must seek other cost-competitive solutions. Such a change can’t happen overnight, but over the course of the next ten years. It’s as if we were looking at two different clocks: one that looks to the future and evaluates our research in the field of technology and innovation, and another one that brings us back to the present, reminding us that the time to invest is now. Like someone who is undergoing a heart transplant and is asked to race in a marathon: it’s an extremely difficult challenge.”

The concept of speed has therefore become central to all large companies who look to a globalised economy. “Even our advances in technology have accelerated – said Enel CEO Francesco Starace – Over the past ten years, we managed to produce fifty per cent more electricity from wind, thanks to innovative solutions in the energy sector.” Companies in the digital age are not only faster, they are also more agile, light, and essential, with lower risk margins and short-term investments.

Therefore, the time to act is now. We must transform the COP21 objectives into action. “The Paris Agreement represents a historic success – explained Lisa Sachs, organiser of the Annual Conference – and as such, we must transform it into concrete actions, especially at a corporate level”.


“This is the first time that the top managers of leading utilities and energy experts have met to find solutions and put the decisions made at COP 21 into practice.”

During the opening panel, in addition to discussing the transition to green energy sources and the necessary incentives to ensure a widespread distribution of renewables, experts spoke about possible long-term strategies for fossil fuels. “Companies are faced with two options – stated Enel’s CEO – either they gradually shut down these power plants or they replace them with renewable energy infrastructures. So what happens to coal-fired plants? They are a traditional part of the energy mix in most industrial countries. The Enel Group has performed a detailed analysis of each plant: some have reached the end of their life cycle and will be closed, others will continue to produce energy until the end of their life cycle, as long as we continue to invest in the environment. Our project Futur-E plans to close 13 GW of installed capacity from fossil fuels in Italy.” 


“One thing is certain we will not build new coal-fired plants. This kinds of technology implies risks for the future and as such, it is not a profitable investment.”

Francesco Starace, CEO Enel


“What about natural gas? It has served as an alternative for nearly 20 years. It is considered a transition fuel, but it is still subject to a high level of price volatility, preventing it from becoming a mature and reliable source for an energy portfolio with a long-term growth potential,” concluded the Enel CEO.


COP22 in Morocco Takes the Floor

The next appointment to discuss these major issues will be in Marrakech, starting November 7. For COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar, the conference is “an opportunity to give voice to the most vulnerable countries, in particular African countries and island states. We must urgently act on these issues, since our “stability and security” are based on them, he stated, promising that COP22 will be dedicated to taking action.

Enel has already taken such an action upon itself, through its commitment to concretely contribute to four of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals: ensuring access to energy, improving education, contributing to the socio-economic development of the communities in which the Group operates and the fight against climate change, as well as achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.