Nicola Rega has been appointed as new Cefic Executive Director Climate Change and Energy. Nicola will succeed Charles-Henri Robert as of the 1st April 2023. In this role, he and his team will work on solutions to energy issues in our industry and accompany the chemical industry on their way to climate neutrality without losing their competitiveness globally.
Nicola has been with Cefic since 2020, when he joined us as Energy Director. During his years in Cefic, Nicola was responsible for many files linked to the European Green Deal and the REPowerEU. He also played a crucial role in Cefic’s work on the effect of the energy crisis on our sector, including the new proposal for the reform of the electricity market design presented yesterday by the European Commission. In his new role, Nicola represents the industry’s interests to European institutions, international organisations and relevant stakeholders.
Looking ahead at the many challenges and opportunities to come, Nicola Rega commented:
“The right solutions never come out of isolation. Over the years I’ve spent countless hours with industrial plant managers and regulatory affair offices, CEOs and professors, national industrial associations and actors from civil society. And these discussions were crucial to working out solutions at European and national levels.
And while we have made much progress, we are still far from crossing the finish line. Many more discussions lie ahead, and many more solutions still need to be found and accomplished. And my mission as Executive Director Climate Change and Energy is to keep working with the right partners and cross the finish line together.”
To welcome Nicola in his new role, we sat down with him to get to know him better and learn about his views. Read the interview below!
Let’s start with the basics: who is Nicola Rega in a nutshell?
Born and raised in Italy, I am an European citizen living in Brussels for more than 20 years. After a degree in Law from the university of Turin, I came to Brussels to lead a European youth organization promoting European integration. Ever since, I have worked in different roles and organization, but with one constant: energy and climate change.
Outside working hours though, I am just a happy husband and proud dad of two wonderful boys, with a wide range of hobbies, from travelling, to playing basketball, gardening and, more generally, fixing all sort of things that need to be fixed in a house.
Many different roles in your career, but always one constant: energy and climate change. What inspired you to pursue a career in this field?
When I started my studies in energy and climate change law, these were still niche areas. In Europe, there were just two university courses focusing on energy, and climate change was under the broader environmental law. Yet, I was fascinated by these topics: energy and climate are around us. They’re often seen as a given and changes don’t happen overnight. But understanding and managing the dynamics requires both a high political sensitivity and a deep knowledge of technical elements. For example, you need to understand how energy markets work, industrial applications work, as well as the legislation behind them. And this is just the beginning: both energy and climate change are deeply cross-disciplinary and touch upon so many different dimension, and it has forced me to always have an open and curious mind.
Another aspect I always enjoyed when tackling challenges with energy and carbon emission reductions is that it offers me a chance to talk with many stakeholders and to look at the world through different lenses every day.
The right solutions never come out of isolation. Over the years I’ve spent countless hours with industrial plant managers and regulatory affair offices, CEOs and professors, national industrial associations and actors from civil society. And these discussions were crucial to working out solutions at European and national levels.
And while we have made much progress, we are still far from crossing the finish line. Many more discussions lie ahead, and many more solutions still need to be found and accomplished. And my mission as Executive Director Climate Change and Energy is to keep working with the right partners and cross the finish line together.
Surely, this is not an easy time to become Executive Director Climate Change and Energy. Which are the key challenges ahead of us?
As many before me have said countless times, we are living in unprecedented times and, of course, also at a critical turning point. It was 2019, when the European Commission published the European Green Deal to address climate change and pledged to a net-zero Europe by 2050. Just a few months later, the world was facing the global COVID-19 pandemic, which generated a global economic turmoil. And one year ago, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought further instability on our continent, as well as a critical energy crisis, with which we are still dealing.
On top of this, major competing economies like China and the US, the first and the third largest countries in the world for chemical production (Europe sits between the two), are ramping up their support programmes for their industries.
In all this, we are facing the biggest transformation in our industry’s history as we go climate neutral, circular, and digital while transitioning to safe and sustainable chemicals. Our industry must change how and what it produce in less than thirty years. The challenge is unprecedented and requires billions of investments.
This being said, I think there is space to transform these challenges in opportunities. COVID-19 reminded everyone of the importance of keeping and restoring strategic value-chains in Europe.
When looking at the energy crisis, it has hit hard (and still is!) many strategic and energy-intensive sectors, and especially the chemical one. However, it was also Europe’s wake-up call on the importance to invest in the “energy outlook” we would like to have instead of the one we had. This means also investing in key infrastructures, strengthening electricity and gas grids, increasing the share of renewables, building on relationships with key third countries and partners, as well as updating and improving energy-related legislations.
With the chemical industry being at the root of more than 90% of industrial value-chains, there is definitely scope for working together with governments and relevant stakeholders to support the chemical industry going through these challenges.
As a first step, we have co-created with the European Commission and other stakeholders the Chemical Transition Pathway. This document lays out all conditions that need to be in place to enable the transformation of the chemical sector in Europe. It is now time to move forward towards implementation together.
You were saying that the sector is heading towards the biggest transformation in its history. What are the key elements for a successful transformation?
First and foremost, it’s a matter of technical feasibility. Technologies need to be developed and brought to the market. I’m thinking for instance of e-crackers, CCS, CCU, chemical recycling. Here support would be needed.
Then we need infrastructures to support these technologies. Electricity grids, hydrogen and CO2 pipelines need to be an enabling condition for industry’s transformation. Now they’re rather the bottleneck. To conclude on the technical feasibility, we need large volumes of renewable and low-carbon electricity and hydrogen. However, producing enough electricity and H2 molecules is just the first step.
The transformation of our sector, or actually, the transformation of any heavy industrial sector, will not be possible without strong electricity and gas grids. Electricity and molecules needs to be delivered to industries seamlessly, abundantly and at competitive prices.
This means, electrons and molecules need to flow freely towards demand despite geographical boundaries and without bottlenecks. But it also means that the prices paid for key molecules and electrons need to be low enough so that European industries remain competitive globally.
Indeed, the successful transformation of our sector relies on economic feasibility. Our industry is export oriented and competes on the global market. The transformation needs to ultimately result in a positive business case, otherwise it won’t happen. Here a lot of work still needs to be done on the policy side.
What are the key dossiers that will keep you busy in the next months?
We’ll certainly need to finish the work stemming from the Fit for 55 package and from REPowerEU. Besides the finalisation of the work on renewable energies, the gas package and the electricity market design review are high on our priority list.
But regardless of the outcome of these dossiers, we’ll have to start working on how to best support our industry in meeting the 2030 targets. On top of this, it is already time to look at post 2030. The Commission is already working on the 2040 horizon, leading to a reflection to the underpinning regulatory framework. In this context, we will have to seriously discuss carbon circularity. It is not possible that, in a circular economy, we still address carbon in a linear way. Between carbon emission mitigation and carbon removal, there is an untapped area of carbon recycling that has the undoubted benefit of developing a sustainable and resilient European economy.
Carbon and hydrogen are at the core of chemistry. To create most of the products we see around us, we need both. But we need to use them in a sustainable way. Capturing carbon and combining it with clean hydrogen is one of the options for sustainable carbon management. It prevents additional emissions to be released in the atmosphere while reducing the extraction of fossil carbon from the ground.
And what comes after 2050?
The chain of crisis of the last years has shown how difficult the job of futurologists is. I will not even try to predict how future society would look like. However, if we will succeed in walking through the four dimensions of the Transition Pathway for the chemical industry – climate neutrality, sustainability, digitalisation and circularity – we can look with optimism at the second half of the century, with the chemical industry being the building block for a resilient society developing in harmony with our planet.
One closing message for us?
The path for our journey to carbon neutrality is clear. It’s a make or break for the future of the chemical industry in Europe, but also for our society as a whole. I’m committed to make it happen for my children, and the children of my children. I look forward to starting the critical discussions needed to identify the path ahead.