Massive Shift to Clean Energy Could Start Tomorrow

Solar power panels generate energy for a newly renovated local administrative building in Liberia. (Credit:UN Photo/Christopher Herwig)

Massive Shift to Clean Energy Could Start Tomorrow

NEW YORK - An aggressive shift
towards renewable power generation and energy effiency could save the
world from the most devastating impacts of climate change, and at the
same time create a multi-billion-dollar industry and save trillions of
dollars in future fuel costs, experts say.

A report released
Monday by the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) and Greenpeace
International entitled "Energy [R]Evolution: A Sustainable World Energy
Outlook", estimates that investments meant to create a low carbon
society would carry an annual 360-billion-dollar industry.

"A renewable energy future is possible," Meg Boyle, global
warming policy specialist at Greenpeace USA, told IPS. "The Energy
Revolution provides a blueprint to get from where we are to where we
need to be, and demonstrates that investing in renewable energy and
energy efficiency is good for energy security, the economy, and the

The blueprint is based on the assumption that in order to
prevent catastrophic climate change, global CO2 emissions must have
peaked by 2015 and must have returned to current levels by 2020. The
authors argue that carbon emissions will be cut by 50 percent in 2050
if the suggested measures are adopted.

According to the report, there are some major steps needed to
tackle climate change. First of all, the technical potential to
increase energy efficiency must be exploited -- for instance, by
improving the insulation of buildings or by replacing conventional
heaters and hot water systems with systems fueled by renewable energy.

Furthermore, there needs to be a shift from "road to railroad"
-- meaning the expansion of public transportation systems to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions from the extensive use of private vehicles.

The most fundamental changes are needed in the sector of power
production: Today's centralised large-scale power stations -- which are
consuming mostly non-renewable sources of energy like coal, gas and oil
-- must be replaced by small and decentralised power plants based on
renewable energies like solar, wind or geothermal.

To achieve this goal, "the power industry and utilities will need to
take more responsibility for reducing emissions, as investment
decisions decide what sources of energy we use for the next
generation," Boyle said.

Oliver Schafer, EREC policy director, stressed that the adaption of the
Energy Revolution scenario would pay off financially, too, because "the
global market for renewable energy can grow at a double digit rate
until 2050, and overtake the size of today's fossil fuel industry.
Currently, the renewable energy market is worth 70 billion dollars and
doubling in size every three years."

As fossil fuels are growing scarce, their prices are very
likely to increase in the future -- making continued reliance on
non-renewable energy sources more and more expensive.

The report estimates that without changing the system, total
electricity supply costs will rise from 1.75 trillion today to 3.8
trillion dollars in 2020. According to Greenpeace and EREC, their
Energy Revolution scenario would save 18.7 trillion dollars until 2030
-- 750 billion a year from now.

Following the blueprint, the world could cover 32.5 percent of its
electricity needs with renewable energy by 2020. While established
technologies like solar and wind may take the lead, new technologies
will be a part of the energy mix -- for example solar thermal,
geothermal or ocean energy.

Another result of the scenario's adoption would be greater equity in
the use of resources between industrialised and developing countries.

Since the developed countries have a far higher per capita use
of energy -- and therefore produce most of the world's greenhouse gas
emissions -- they would have to reduce their emissions earlier than
developing economies, peaking no later than 2015.

Developing countries will have to stabilise their emissions by 2020 and
reduce them beyond 2030 -- a timeframe that would allow them to further
grow economically.

"They need to learn from the mistakes of the developed world and invest
in renewable energy instead of coal and nuclear," Boyle said.

Asked about how realistic the adoption of the Energy Revolution
scenario is for global policy-makers, Boyle lamented that "so far the
international community's overall speed of progress toward a new
climate agreement has fallen far short of the rapid pace needed to
avoid climate catastrophe."

Greenpeace is now calling upon world leaders to agree on
strong new global caps on emissions in developed countries -- without
major loopholes -- as well as on massive funding for renewable energy,
energy effiency and climate change adaptation in developing countries.

"Politicians in the developed world -- where, as our scenario
proves, the barriers to change are political, not technical -- need to
take the lead and act swiftly to enact a strong global climate
agreement," Boyle said.

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