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Powering equality – Q&A with Laura Janssen, Senior Associate of Dentons

Energy revolution cannot happen without women. This interview is published as part of a campaign launched by the Women in Energy Association (WONY).

Laura Janssen, Senior Associate of global law firm Dentons and member of the Women in Energy Association speaks about the various opportunities of the ongoing energy transition, which offers many potential benefits for players in the energy sector who can and wish to rethink their operations in light of our climate ambitions. She also explains how the inclusion of women in the sector can create open, creative and inclusive working environments in which employees can flourish.

What are the big challenges and opportunities that you see ahead in the energy sector?

The energy sector is in the midst of extremely interesting times.

On the one hand, it has to meet the growing global demand for energy. Rising economies increasingly require and use energy, especially electricity. In addition, certain technological developments boost demand for electricity including the increase in the use of electronica, the rise of major data warehouse fields or the mining of cryptocurrencies.

At the same time, the energy sector has to change the way it supplies this increasing demand. All players are required to take part in the energy transition and to transform from a fossil-based to zero carbon emission production.

Obviously, this is no news: the energy transition started years ago. However, I believe that nowadays the energy transition is gaining more momentum than ever before. As the COP26 President said at the IEA-COP26 Net Zero Summit on the 31st of March, “it is time for the world to move from a decade of climate change deliberation to a decade of delivery.”

I believe this is where impactful, interesting opportunities will arise for players in the energy sector who can and wish to join the energy transition.

To be more specific, governments and intergovernmental organisations such as the European Union are committed to far-reaching emission reduction and energy transition plans in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement (or even beyond). A prime example is the EU Green Deal, aiming to make Europe climate neutral by 2050. Its investment pillar (the European Green Deal Investment Plan) estimates to mobilise at least 1 trillion euros this decade to achieve the goals set by the European Green Deal. This amount will be partially allocated to the energy sector. In the Netherlands, the Paris goals resulted in the Klimaatakkoord pursuant to which it will spend 300 million euros annually between 2020 and 2030 to reduce CO2 emissions.

In my view, these plans and investments will result in new legislation stimulating or even forcing the energy sector to implement changes backed by public funds. It is not as if the energy sector has been waiting for the governments to take action. Many energy companies have been investing in the transition and new technologies for years. Though now, their plans and budgets should get an extra boost and support. Notably, the United States’ recently released tax plan aims to remove subsidies for fossil fuel producers and substantially expand tax incentives for clean energy.

It is also important to note that the energy transition is supported by other business sectors and civil society. Companies are called upon to publicly share their efforts to contribute to sustainability and a healthy, green environment. This development has received a major boost from the rise of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy that more and more companies are implementing in their own strategies. Financial institutions steer their investment strategies towards companies and projects showing an attractive ESG score. Green projects, for example, are offered financial discounts.

For the energy sector players that originally focused on fossil energy and are less agile to make the shift, times will become more challenging. Current subsidies or advantageous (tax) legislation is under pressure from public opinion and likely to be sobered. In addition, it is becoming more difficult to attract finance. I understand that financial institutions want to stimulate green finance and present to their stakeholders that they have a green portfolio. However, in my opinion, that is too short-sided. Banks should not exclude fossil energy-related companies from their services. Instead, these companies should also be part of the transition and perhaps be provided with even more financial resources to make the change.

For Dentons, as a worldwide law firm, it is our mission to help our clients navigate through the extensive new climate and energy legislation that is coming towards them. We help them understand and prepare for the changes that follow the new rules, manage and control their risks and seize the opportunities. As a tax lawyer, I am focused on green tax developments such as the introduction of carbon taxes, the announced EU carbon border adjustment mechanism and the various rules providing the energy sector tax benefits for sustainable investments. These developments will also provide both challenges and opportunities for the energy sector.

How has the COVID crisis impacted the ongoing energy transition? Can we expect long-term effects that will stay with us even after the end of the pandemic?

The COVID crisis has made people realise that humans and nature are connected and dependent on each other – it is not just nature that depends on us. We all thrive in a balanced environment and any disruptions in this balance can produce detrimental consequences for our humankind and our way of living, as the COVID crisis has painfully shown.

I am very happy to see that topics as climate change and loss of biodiversity are not only on the table of environmental activists and organisations anymore. Instead, as explained before, nowadays it is one of the key concerns of governments, people and businesses. Finally, all the alarming reports of organisations as the UN, the WWF, are leading to strong responses and actual actions. It is a positive development that governments combat the negative impact of the pandemic with measures focusing on change and the energy transition is indisputably part of this change. Governments connect tackling climate change with the economic recovery from the crisis. The EU Recovery Plan and president Biden’s Infrastructure Plan are good examples. If these plans are executed successfully and if the promised funds are spent wisely and efficiently, I believe that ultimately – the COVID crisis will accelerate the energy transition (albeit that the economic consequences and uncertainty obviously will also put constraints on the short term).

I do not think that this movement will fade away after the end of the pandemic. First, because of the significant investments that will be made. But more importantly, I do not think that people will lose their awareness of the environment’s vulnerability and the long-term adverse consequences that an imbalanced world could have on humankind, any time soon.

Historically the energy sector is one of the least gender-diverse sectors. How do you see the role of women shaping the future of energy and specifically how the Women in Energy Association contributes to close the gender gap in the industry?

Any sector and social environment function better when consisting of a diverse group of members. Different skills, mindsets and values combined result in well thought and sustainable decisions. They also create open, creative and inclusive working environments in which employees can flourish – as it is easier to stay close to themselves instead of changing behaviour to fit in.

Therefore, in my view, the energy sector will benefit greatly from a more diverse workforce. All changes, thus including the energy transition, require people with different mindsets, new ideas and a strong ability to connect. As the energy sector is still predominately represented by men, hiring more women would be a logical and helpful first step to realize the changes.

WONY plays a supportive role in the increase of female participation within the energy sector. Even though I haven’t had the pleasure to attend physically yet, I always enjoy our online WONY events. The ambience is open and supportive, focused on a positive future. The members share their ideas, experiences and observations and genuinely support each other with advice and references. WONY is a successful network of ambitious women and I believe that through WONY, more women will be empowered to enter the energy sector, fulfil higher positions and contribute in their way to the energy transition.

If you can give one piece of advice for women who want to make their career in the energy field, what would that be?

I am not fond of generalising but for this piece of advice, I guess I have to generalise a little. In my experience, women more than men tend to involve each and everyone in their decision-making process, ensuring that everybody agrees and is aligned. I believe that this approach results in well thought and broadly supported decisions. Nevertheless, it is a lengthy and energy-consuming approach that can jeopardize your own effectiveness. Therefore my piece of advice would be to sometimes ask for forgiveness instead of permission upfront. Do not always wait for everyone to agree with your plan, before executing it. Just trust your intuition, because we all have it for a reason.

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