REN21 is gearing up for its participation at the climate change talks in Warsaw. While climate is not a central theme to REN21’s work, renewables should be a central element of any climate action plan.
Despite tremendous growth in renewable energy witnessed over the last decade, fossil fuels continue to be a destructive force on our environment and the chief contributor to global climate change. Fossil fuel combustion currently accounts for nearly 70 percent of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, two-thirds of which come from the energy sector. Although renewables accounted for 19 percent of global energy consumption in 2011, new estimates for CO2 emissions from traditional fossil fuels reveal a 1.4 percent increase, resulting in a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes (Gt).
Scientists believe that 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) is the maximum global temperature increase that can be sustained before catastrophic climate disruptions become likely. However, the window for staying below this threshold—recognised by all major countries at the 2009 UNFCCC climate summit in Copenhagen—is rapidly closing. Preventing ecologic and human disaster necessitates a global transformation towards low-carbon strategies aimed at climate change mitigation and energy resilience. Given the power sector’s significant contributions to global emissions, there needs to be advances in electricity generation. A one-third reduction of CO2 emission in the sector is necessary to limit warming to 2°C. Doing so will require the power sector to harness USD 6.4 trillion worth of investment by 2020.
However, given that the world recently passed 400 ppm of atmospheric CO2 meeting growing energy needs in a climate-constrained world requires a fundamental shift in how all energy services are delivered. Renewable energy, coupled with energy efficiency measures, is central to achieving this objective.
Achieving a global transformation towards low-carbon strategies aimed at climate change mitigation and energy resilience necessitates a rapid advancement in the development and deployment of renewable energy. However a future that places renewables front and center in the energy equation is fundamentally a choice. The deadline to meet the 2°C limit demands that international efforts and investment be strategically targeted, focusing on proven best practices and the most effective methods of advancing renewables.
Can we collectively rise to the challenge?