solar panels

Gopalakrishna Devraj inspects the solar panels at the Fortum solar park in Karnataka state, one of India's biggest solar energy producers. (Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'Radical' Renewable Transition the Key to Fighting Energy, Climate Crises

"Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure will only lock in uneconomic practices, perpetuate existing risks, and increase the threats of climate change," warned the head of IRENA.

Tackling the current energy crisis in the short term and combating the climate emergency in the long term both require rapidly phasing out fossil fuels, a global group that promotes renewable energy said Tuesday.

"The energy transition is far from being on track and anything short of radical action in the coming years will diminish, even eliminate, chances to meet our climate goals."

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) launched its new report--World Energy Transitions Outlook 2022--at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue as Russia's war on Ukraine and climate scientists' mounting warnings have heightened attention on the various negatives impacts of fossil fuels.

Echoing the outlook, Francesco La Camera, IRENA's director-general, said in a statement that "the energy transition is far from being on track and anything short of radical action in the coming years will diminish, even eliminate, chances to meet our climate goals."

"Today, governments are facing multiple challenges of energy security, economic recovery, and the affordability of energy bills for households and businesses," La Camera noted. "Many answers lie in the accelerated transition."

"But it's a political choice to put policies in place that comply with [the] Paris agreement and the Sustainable Development Agenda," he added. "Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure will only lock in uneconomic practices, perpetuate existing risks, and increase the threats of climate change."

While parties to the Paris agreement met in Scotland last year to discuss how to meet its goals of keeping global temperature rise this century below 2degC and ultimately limiting it to 1.5degC, experts continue to conclude the world is on track to blow past those targets.

"Progress across all energy uses has been woefully inadequate" and "commitments made at COP26 showed a promising trend but still fell short of what is required," La Camera wrote in the report's foreword, referencing the 2021 summit in Scotland.

According to the Associated Press, La Camera told the conference in Berlin that "not only the 1.5degC, the 2degC goal is really in danger if we don't act and don't make a dramatic change in the way we produce and consume energy."

The outlook features a 1.5degC pathway that "positions electrification and efficiency as key drivers of the energy transition, enabled by renewables, hydrogen, and sustainable biomass."

As the report details, the international community could cut off nearly 37 gigatonnes of annual planet-heating emissions by 2050 through:

  • Significant increases in generation and direct uses of renewables-based electricity;
  • Substantial improvements in energy efficiency;
  • The electrification of end-use sectors (e.g. electric vehicles and heat pumps);
  • Clean hydrogen and its derivatives;
  • Bioenergy coupled with carbon capture and storage; and
  • Last-mile use of carbon capture and storage.

While some experts and campaigners remain highly critical of carbon capture and storage schemes pushed by polluters, the outlook's overarching demand for a rapid transition to clean energy aligns with calls from scientists and climate advocacy groups.

"It is high time to act," La Camera declared. "Recent developments have clearly demonstrated that high fossil fuel prices can result in energy poverty and loss of industrial competitiveness."

The agency leader also highlighted that "80% of the global population lives in countries that are net-importers of fossil fuels. By contrast, renewables are available in all countries, offering a way out of import dependency and allowing countries to decouple economies from the costs of fossil fuels while driving economic growth and new jobs."

Specifically, the outlook projects that "by 2030, the 1.5degC-aligned energy transition promises the creation of close to 85 million additional energy transition-related jobs compared to 2019 and support a boost in global gross domestic product (GDP)."

"The additional 26.5 million jobs in renewables and 58.3 million extra jobs in energy efficiency, power grids and flexibility, and hydrogen more than offset losses of 12 million jobs in the fossil fuel and nuclear industries," the report points out.

Getting there by the end of this decade will require investing $5.7 trillion per year, according to IRENA, which also calls for redirecting $700 billion in annual investments in fossil fuels toward transition technologies to avoid stranded assets--or, as the AP put it, "avoid creating wells, pipelines, and power plants that can't be used anymore."

As the AP noted:

This demand was echoed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called for an end to private sector financing for coal power, which surged to record highs last year.

"Lenders need to recognize that coal and fossil fuels are futile investments that will lead to billions of dollars in stranded assets," he said.

With countries such as the United States ramping up domestic fossil fuel production amid energy price hikes and fears of supply shortages because of Russia's war in Ukraine, Guterres urged governments not to delay the shift away from fossil fuels.

"The current crisis shows that we must accelerate, not slow, the renewable energy transition," he said. "This is the only true path to energy security."

Guterres has been especially critical of rich nations most responsible for polluting the planet. Last month, he called the findings of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report an "atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership."

"The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal," he said at the time, as the panel detailed how human-caused global heating is already impacting nature and billions of lives globally. "The world's biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home."

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