Renewable energy represents not only a tool to reduce climate heating, but also a deep, largely untapped pool of job and wealth creation, writes Francesco La Camera, director-general, International Renewable Energy Agency
The Climate Action Summit convened by António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, is rapidly approaching on 23 September 2019. All countries are called on to identify ways and means to raise their ambition for the full implementation of the Paris Agreement. Guterres made it clear that the summit will not just be a series of speeches, but should be the moment to collect concrete and factual commitments to fight climate change and its devastating impacts. The stakes are high. Under his leadership, this gathering of world leaders bears the unique opportunity to champion ambitious climate action.
The recent, historically high heatwaves have confirmed the urgency of the need to act.
The pace of global decarbonisation must accelerate – to protect our planet and to ensure a low-emission, climate-resilient world in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we now have only 11 years left to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. In this timeframe, renewable energy and energy efficiency are the only instruments available that can effectively achieve the required decarbonisation of the energy sector. We have the tools and technologies at hand. Accelerating renewables and energy efficiency is the way forward.
At IRENA, we have shown that by increasing renewables at a rate six times faster than the current rate, we can fulfil climate commitments and avoid greater loss to polar regions, island states and overwhelmed climate-vulnerable societies. Achieving this acceleration will require more investment. However, due to dramatically falling renewable costs, the global investment needed to meet the Paris targets has fallen by 40% from previous estimates. This is possible because renewable power has become the cheapest electricity source in many parts of the world.
Falling technology costs have made solar, wind and other renewables the backbone of energy decarbonisation and the most effective climate action tool available.
Despite the price tag, investing in the energy transformation is undeniably worth it. IRENA has calculated that a climate-safe path could save the global economy up to $160 trillion cumulatively over the next 30 years in avoided health costs, energy subsidies and climate damages. Every dollar spent will pay off between three and seven times.
Furthermore, renewables run the industrial engine, driving fair, inclusive and sustainable economic development. The shift to renewables is a veritable job-creating machine. Last year, more than 11 million people worldwide had jobs in the renewables sector. More countries manufacture, trade and install renewable energy technologies every year, as policymakers increasingly recognise the job creation opportunity.
A clear opportunity for governments to increase ambition lies in the upcoming round of national climate commitments. Under the Paris Agreement, countries have agreed to progressively raise the ambition of their climate plans to limit global warming. Nationally determined contributions provide a strong framework to reduce emissions and create resilient economies and societies for the future.
But although the global installed capacity of renewable power grows on average by 8.5% every year, implementing renewable targets in current NDCs would only lead to an annual average deployment of around 3.6% by 2030. Hence, these targets are yet to meet the reality of renewable energy growth. NDCs clearly leave renewable energy potential untapped.
IRENA has been supporting countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future. We will strengthen our work in preparing more ambitious climate pledges based on a strong renewable energy pillar while continuing to work on long-term climate and energy strategies. The recently signed strategic partnership between IRENA and the UN Climate Change Secretariat will facilitate these efforts.
IRENA stands ready to support its members in raising their climate ambitions by making full use of their renewable energy and energy efficiency potential.
Through renewable energy, we today possess the means and technology to tackle climate change. Now is the time for bold leadership and political commitment that matches the relentless vigour of our youth marching on the streets for more climate ambition.
Now is the time for decisive action.