Speech delivered at Cyberspace, Energy & Development Conference in Vienna, Austria

16.02.2017 | Vienna, Austria


Speech of OFID Director-General Suleiman J Al-Herbish, entitled Cyberspace, Energy & Development - Protecting Critical Energy Infrastructure, delivered at the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration & Foreign Affairs, Vienna, Austria, 16 February 2017.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. It is an honor and a pleasure to address you today, on the occasion of the “Cyberspace, Energy and Development” conference. I would like to thank the Austrian Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs for inviting me to participate in this high-level event.

The world today faces unprecedented challenges as infrastructure critical to global economic security is growing more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Power networks and, to a certain extent, oil and gas infrastructure, are becoming increasingly integrated with information communication technology systems. Consequently, the number and security implications of sophisticated cyber-attacks on these critical structures are also increasing.

These challenges, and how to safeguard against this vulnerability, are the subject of the deliberations today. Allow me to approach the topic from the perspective of the interdependency between energy services, human development and economic growth.

Energy is an essential building block of a country's social, economic and sustainable development. As the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has confirmed, the poorest societies are in need of sufficient energy to help lift their citizens out of poverty. More energy is needed to provide electricity to the 1.2 billion people around the world who lack access to it, and to supply clean cooking facilities to the 2.7 billion people who rely on the intensified use of traditional biomass fuels.

The issue of energy poverty is at the core of the mandate of my institution, the OPEC Fund for International Development.

OFID was established over four decades ago by OPEC member countries as a vehicle to channel aid to fellow developing countries. Since inception we have committed over US$20 billion in support of more than 3,600 operations across 134 countries in education, health, agriculture, rural development, transport, water-supply, industry, communications and energy.

Since 2007, however, we have made access to modern energy services a focus of our activities. This move came in response to a special mandate from our member countries. It stems from the firm belief that access to reliable, affordable, sustainable energy services is vital to support all aspects of development.

Since 2008, with the goal of alleviating energy poverty, OFID has delivered a total of US$3.4bn in energy financing through governments, private companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, non-governmental organizations and through entrepreneurs. This sum leverages 91 projects worldwide, with a combined total value of over US$23.8bn.

Of course, delivering increasing amounts of energy to those who lack it, and indeed to a growing world population, requires additional and improved infrastructure to produce, process and transport this energy. In the power sector alone, for example, the net electricity generation will grow from 23.3 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2013 to 39.4 trillion kWh in 2040. These figures, according to the IEA, forecast a 70 percent increase. Translated into investment dollars, the cumulative global power sector investment requirement is estimated to average $760 billion per year over a similar period, according to the IEA New Policies Scenario.

As the economies of the world expand and as societies continue to develop, the energy industry will need to evolve. New strategies and solutions, therefore, will have to be developed to make energy production more efficient, energy consumption more sustainable and the fuel mix more diversified.

The transformation will not be easy. Huge investments in infrastructure are certainly needed. But this transformation will also require major technological innovations, as well as a change in mind-sets, policies and business models. A greater investment in people is also vital to provide the necessary education and skills training.

But perhaps most relevant to the theme of today’s gathering is that a higher degree of cyber security will be needed to protect the energy industry of the future against potential system security risks and data piracy.

This is true especially for the energy-poor societies in most need of access to sustainable energy—that is not only affordable, but also reliable, energy. It is in developing countries that energy services are subject to the most disruptions.

The quality of electricity supply, as published by the World Economic Forum, shows that reliable power is highly correlated with higher levels of GDP per capita.

Part of the challenge we face today is ensuring that cyber security is an integral part of the energy infrastructure. The response must be twofold: it is important to ensure that the energy-poor have access to modern energy services; but it is also essential to safeguard the security of existing and new infrastructure.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: We live in a world of many highly interconnected systems. Damaging one element may cause unexpected impacts elsewhere. Any disruption – any breakdown in energy delivery – is a threat in itself. But it could also trigger a chain reaction with severe consequences for the health, safety, security and economic wellbeing of certain populations or even the world as a whole.

While we deliberate on the cyber security of energy infrastructure, we must not forget the most vulnerable. As governments and private enterprises in developed countries invest in new innovations and digital technologies, it is crucial that we establish a robust and sustained dialogue, one that is inclusive and responsive to the needs of developing countries trying to protect critical energy infrastructure.

A key aspect in this regard is capacity building. Collective action needs to be initiated to develop strategies and approaches to effectively support education, training and technology transfer programs. The aim is to help developing countries acquire the skills and institutional capacity they need to administer, manage and use cyber security protocols to protect their own infrastructures, and also to benefit the world at large.

I trust that today’s event will be a step in that direction.

At OFID we are responsive to the changing needs and priorities of our partner countries. Therefore we stand ready to finance energy access projects that incorporate cyber security as an essential component of their activities. Thank you.

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