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Solar plant worker in Uganda

Ambrose Kamukama, operations and maintenance engineer from Access Uganda Solar Limited, works at Soroti Power plant in Soroti District about 300 kilometers northeast of the capital Kampala, on December 12, 2016. (Photo: Isaac Kasamani/AFP via Getty Images)

'Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy' Shows Transition to Renewable Future Totally Doable

"The hurdle is no longer economic nor technical; our biggest challenges are political. A cleaner future is within reach."

Andrea Germanos

Ditching fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy in order to keep warming below the 1.5ºC threshold is both "necessary and technically feasible."

That's the conclusion of an analysis released Thursday entitled Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy. Produced by the University of Technology Sydney's Institute for Sustainable Futures in cooperation with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, the report states clearly that "there is no need for more fossil fuels" because the world is overflowing with renewable energy capacity.

"The world has more than enough renewable energy resources that can be scaled up rapidly enough to meet the energy demands of every person in the world without any shortfall in global energy generation." —Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy

Such a pathway, said Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia, would avert a "criminal waste of money" that would "have devastating climate and humanitarian consequences."

A key point in the analysis is that simply stopping the industry's planned expansion of fossil fuel projects is insufficient to meet the Paris climate agreement's temperature goal and would actually "push warming well above 1.5ºC."

With this angle, the new analysis goes beyond the International Energy Agency's report last month calling for no oil and gas expansion in order to meet a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That's because even if there were no expansion, the report's projections show, the world would produce 35% more oil and 69% more coal than is consistent with meeting the 1.5°C target.

As such, Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy lays out a dirty energy phaseout with an annual decline of 9.5% for coal, 8.5% for oil, 3.5% for gas from 2021-2030.

A further difference between the new report's 1.5ºC scenario and the IEA report is its rejection of carbon capture technology and bioenergy as well as nuclear energy going forward.

Leaving those sources aside is no problem because expanding efficiency measures will lower overall energy demands, even amid increased electrification. That's because wind and solar power—sectors that are accelerating—are in a position to take over for fossil fuels.

"Our analysis shows that even applying a set of robust, conservative estimates that take into account environmental safeguards, land constraints, and technical feasibility, solar and wind energy could power the world more than 50 times over," the report states. "This is the case even for Africa and India with their growing energy demand."

"With this report, it is even clearer to everyone that world leaders have no excuse. We must act now." —Mitzi Jonelle Tan, Youth Advocates Climate Action Philippines

The report points also to previous estimates showing Africa's potential as a renewable "superpower" because "the solar and wind potential across the continent far outstrip every other region of the world."

There are also global financial benefits to be considered. The report notes that renewable costs are becoming at least cost-competitive with fossil fuels. What's more, investments in dirty energy are becoming "stranded assets."

The good news is that "the world has more than enough renewable energy resources that can be scaled up rapidly enough to meet the energy demands of every person in the world without any shortfall in global energy generation," according to the report.

Rebecca Byrnes, deputy director for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, welcomed the new publication as providing evidence "that a practical pathway exists where there are no new fossil fuel projects, existing projects are phased out, emissions are kept within a 1.5°C budget, and energy access becomes universal, all while using existing and increasingly cost-competitive technologies."

"The hurdle is no longer economic nor technical; our biggest challenges are political," she added. "A cleaner future is within reach and, while international cooperation is essential for innovation and investment, nation-states can and should act now to regulate fossil fuel production decline."

Referencing the record number of extreme weather events that have battered her home country, Mitzi Jonelle Tan of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines and Fridays For Future Philippines called the "current level of warming... already hell for us in the Global South."

Tan sharply criticized the possibility of further fossil fuel expansion, saying it "will clearly put us past the 1.5°C limit [and] is a death sentence to the most marginalized people."

"With this report," she added, "it is even clearer to everyone that world leaders have no excuse. We must act now, the science and the people are united in calling for justice."


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