By Catherine HOURS
PARIS, Nov 30, 2023 (AFP) – Host United Arab Emirates wants nearly 200 nations attending the COP28 climate summit starting Thursday to commit to tripling installed renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030, a goal experts say is “ambitious but achievable”.
If the UN forum sets that target in stone, it could become a key marker of COP28’s success, especially if coupled with a pledge to drawn down fossil fuel use.
– Why triple renewable energy? –
In September, the G20 — accounting for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — broke new ground in endorsing the goal of tripling renewable energy capacity by the end of the decade.
The club of major economies remained silent, however, on the need to reduce fossil fuel use, which will also be on the table during the two-week meeting in Dubai.
For Dave Jones, an expert with think tank Ember, the G20’s statement has helped push renewables back to centre stage.
“We were too busy worrying about hydrogen and carbon capture,” he told AFP. “Those technologies are going to help solve the problem, but they are not going to be the driving force behind the solution.”
All credible pathways for achieving global carbon neutrality by mid-century depend on massively scaling up wind, solar, hydroelectric and other renewable energies, such as biomass.
This is “the single most important lever” for reducing carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels, and capping warming under the Paris Agreement threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with the pre-industrial period, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.
“Achieving net zero emissions from the energy sector by 2050 rests on the world’s ability to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030,” the intergovernmental body said in a recent report.
Doing so would avoid some seven billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over the next seven years, putting a big dent in the 37 billion tonnes that the world currently emits every year.
Rapid expansion of renewables would cover skyrocketing demand for electricity linked to transport, heating and especially air conditioning.
It would also cut in half the amount of electricity generated by coal, the number one source of CO2.
– How much energy? –
“Concretely, we’d need to increase from 3,600 gigawatts (GW) from renewables at the end of 2022 to 11,000 GW in 2030,” explained Jones.
That would mean adding 1,500 GW of new installed capacity every year by 2030, up from 300 GW in 2022 and an estimated 500 GW in this year.
Progress is visible. Between 2015 and 2022, renewable capacity increased 11 percent per year, on average.
Against a backdrop of soaring oil prices and energy insecurity linked to the war in Ukraine, the IEA forecasts unprecedented growth of about 30 percent in 2023.
China could reach its 2030 target of 1,200 GW capacity from photovoltaics five years early. A surge in the supply of components — mostly from China — could help ensure an additional 1,000 GW of solar capacity by the end of next year, Jones said.
Wind power, however, has hit obstacles in the form of rising costs and interest rates.
Not all countries will have to make the same efforts to slash emissions. Of 57 nations analysed, more than half were on track to meet or exceed their 2030 targets, the Ember analysis points out.
But other large emitters such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and United Arab Emirates still have lots of room for improvement.
– How can this be achieved? –
Last year, 1,000 GW of wind and solar power capacity in the pipeline failed to materialise due to underdeveloped electricity grids and obstacles to permitting, according to the Ren21 research network.
Another bottleneck is finance. Wind and solar are the cheapest way to generate energy and are quick to deploy, but require investment to get off the ground, particularly in emerging and developing countries.
And yet only two percent of energy transition investment between 2000 and 2020 went to Africa, where half the population still lacks electricity, according to the Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).
“We need four trillion dollars a year and we’re a long way from that,” said Ren21 director Rana Adib. “We know that the energy transition also means stopping new investment in fossil fuels”.
In 2022, hydrocarbons were subsidised twice as much as in 2021 to the tune of nearly $1.3 trillion in G20 countries alone, according to BloombergNEF.
This “could have financed 1,900 GW of solar power plants, or ten times the capacity installed by the G20 last year,” the energy think tanks calculated.
The consequence of this situation is clear, insisted Adib, with oil, gas and coal still accounting for more than 80 percent of the world’s final energy consumption, a rate that has not changed for years.