Tag Archives: COP20

The Switch to Renewable Power is a Battle We Cannot Afford to Lose (Op-Ed by IRENA Head)

(This article originally appeared in The Guardian on 24 December, 2015.)

AdnanZ-AminSince the final gavel fell at the Lima climate talks earlier this month, discussions have centred on one question: what did the talks actually accomplish?

After two weeks of intense negotiation, governments settled on a draft text that will hopefully lead to a successful global climate deal in Paris next December. While opinions vary regarding the success or failure of the outcome, there is another story emerging outside the negotiation room.

This year’s conference represented a highly-significant shift in the positive momentum to act on climate change. While negotiators engaged in contentious debates, businesses, non-governmental organisations and local authorities stepped forward to present their own climate initiatives and committed to more action on the ground.

In this shift, renewable energy took centre stage.

According to the Nazca Climate Action portal (named after Peru’s famous geoglyphs), 319 cities and 261 companies are taking action on climate change. Of the 913 total actions recorded so far, 402 relate to energy efficiency and 242 relate to renewable energy.

Private sector initiatives – such as RE100 and the Global Investor Statement on Climate Change – have also emerged to encourage businesses and investors to phase out fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy.

National governments are following suit. Peru plans to generate 60% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2024; Chile doubled its total renewable power capacity in 2014; Germany and Sweden will be carbon-free by 2050. The list goes on, including 144 countries with renewable energy targets, 50 countries supporting a total phase-out of carbon emissions by 2050 and 100 countries supporting zero emissions by 2100.

This action, and the hope it generates for an attainable solution to climate change, is being partly fuelled by the increasingly strong business case for renewable energy. Renewable energy is now the most cost-competitive source of power in many parts of the world.

In Dubai, solar-generated electricity reached a record-low price of six cents per kilowatt hour at an auction in November, cheaper than gas and coal. Similar low prices were achieved for solar power in Brazil in October.

Research by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) shows that a doubling of the world’s share of renewable energy by 2030, from about 18% in 2010 to 36%, would help avoid the worst effects of climate change and would be cheaper than not doing so.

When considering factors like the cost of ill health and environmental damage due to pollution, switching to renewable energy could save up to $740bn (£476bn) per year by 2030. If these costs were factored into energy prices, renewable energy and energy efficiency measures would be cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives.

Beyond cost, renewable energy improves public health and security, creates jobs, and boosts economic growth. Irena research finds that renewable energy jobs reached 6.5m globally in 2013 (the coal sector employed 7m people in the same year) and if steps are taken to double the share of renewable energy, this number could top 16m by 2030.

The momentum and action on renewable energy initiatives was not completely missed by negotiators in Lima. A carbon-free future is now formally part of the negotiations with the need to phase out fossil fuels considered one of the options in the draft negotiating text.

While this is a good first step, the emerging momentum must be injected further into the political discourse to fuel the agenda on climate action and spur a rapid transition to a low carbon future. Putting a price on carbon to create a level playing field for clean energy solutions will be an important driver of that agenda.

To accelerate the scale-up of renewables to the level required to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need urgent, bold steps, from leaders willing to take the short-term hits from those who would rather carry on with business as usual. This needs to happen at global and local levels, engaging everyone from governments and corporations to investors and individuals.

Vested interests and short-term thinking must be overcome. It will be a battle. But it is a battle we simply cannot afford to lose.

Quote of the Day: US Secretary of State John Kerry

Excerpts from his speech at the UN Climate Conference in Lima, Peru:

“Since President Obama took office, the United States has upped our wind energy production more than threefold, and we’ve upped our solar energy production more than tenfold. We’ve also become smarter about the way we use energy in our homes and businesses. And as a result, we’re emitting less overall than we have at any time in the last 20 years.

This is by far the most ambitious set of climate change actions that the United States has ever undertaken. And it’s the reason we were able to recently announce our post-2020 goal of reducing emissions from 26 to 28 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2025. That will put us squarely on the road to a more sustainable and prosperous economy. And the upper end of this target would also enable us to cut our emissions by 83 percent by 2050 – which is what science says we need to do to meet the goal of preventing over 2 degrees of Celsius warming.

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And at the end of the day, if nations do choose the energy sources of the past over the energy sources of the future, they’ll actually be missing out on the opportunity to build the kind of economy that will be the economy of the future and that will thrive and be sustainable.

Coal and oil may be cheap ways to power an economy today in the near term, but I urge nations around the world – the vast majority of whom are represented here, at this conference – look further down the road. I urge you to consider the real, actual, far-reaching costs that come along with what some think is the cheaper alternative. It’s not cheaper.

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And for everyone thinking that you can’t afford this transition or invest in alternative or renewable energy, do the real math on the costs. Consider the sizable costs associated with rebuilding in the wake of every devastating weather event. In 2012 alone, extreme weather events cost the United States $110 billion. When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last year, the cost of responding to the damage exceeded $10 billion.

The bottom line is that we can’t only factor in the cost of immediate energy need or energy transition. We have to factor in the long-term cost of carbon pollution. And we have to factor in the cost of survival itself. And if we do, we will find that the cost of pursuing clean energy now is far cheaper than paying for the consequences of climate change later

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I said earlier that the solution to climate change is as clear as the problem. It’s here. The solution is energy policy.

Round Up: Quotes on Renewable Energy from COP 20

 Paul Watkinson

“Renewables have a huge role to play in mitigating climate change because one of the key challenges is to decarbonize our energy system and renewables are the key way forward in doing that. Also, this is not just about reducing emissions, it’s about development, access to energy, and moving forward in a positive way…renewable energy can change people’s lives overnight. – Paul Watkinson, Head of Climate Negotiations team, France

 Adnan Amin

“To drive the rapid uptake of renewables, legislators have to take an urgent and active approach, adopting new policy frameworks at the national and regional levels. Without the support of legislators, we will be unable to turn the tide. I encourage you to come together and embrace the extraordinary opportunities the renewable revolution has to offer.” – Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA Director-General

 CF

“Quite frankly, there is no answer to climate change without substantially, dramatically, increasing the amount of renewable energy in the global energy system.” – Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC

 Espen Ronneberg

“Renewable energy, at least from the perspective of small islands states, is absolutely crucial in the fight against climate change. The amount of money we spend each year on fossil fuels in totally unsustainable. By utilizing renewables we can also significantly improve lives through energy access while reducing fossil fuel purchases.” – Espen Ronneberg, Climate Change Advisor, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme

 Majid Al Suwaidi

“The United Arab Emirates recognized early that our economy was based on one thing, oil and gas, so we needed to diversify. Renewable energy projects now make economic sense, specifically solar for our region. If renewables work in the UAE, they can work anywhere in the world.” – Majid Al Suwaidi, Chief Climate Change Negotiator, UAE

 Barbara Hendricks

“Overall it is a question of gradually tackling a key challenge: power generation in Germany needs to be almost carbon-free by 2050 in order to achieve our national and European climate targets. Replacing fossil power generation with renewable energies makes the biggest contribution to this.” – Barbara Hendricks, Federal Environment Minister of Germany

 Mark Kenber

“Business is finding that committing to renewable energy makes sense. They are making the switch for business reasons…it actually saves them money.” – Mark Kenber, CEO of the Climate Group

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“Thanks to national policies, Sweden has achieved a 23% emission reduction since 1990 and our GDP has risen 60% during that same period. This proves that renewables make economic sense. Our dependency on fossil fuel has been reduced by half, and we are now one of the most renewable energy-dependent economies.” – Katja Awiti, Deputy Director General, Climate Department, Ministry of Climate and Environment Sweden

 Hullin

 “The future of renewable energy is fundamentally a choice. All of the resources and technologies are there, but legislators and governments have to choose a renewables path.” – Martin Hullin from REN21

 Rob Fowler

“I think renewable energy really has the primary role in mitigating climate change. If we are going to reduce fossil fuel emissions, which is the key here, then renewables have to take their place; energy is not going to stop being a necessary commodity for people.” – Rob Fowler, Gold Standard Foundation

Initiative Helps Islands Lead on Climate Action

Today is Lima Climate Action Day at COP 20, dedicated to strengthening the global message on the need to increase both ambition and collaboration on climate change.

To highlight actions already being taken and encourage further cooperative climate agreements, the government of Peru hosted a special event highlighting various initiates including: IRENA’s SIDS Lighthouse Initiative, Renewable Energy 100, and the Climate Bond initiative.

IRENA’s Elizabeth Press spoke about IRENA’s effort to develop more renewable energy in small island developing states (SIDS). Disconnected from mainland electricity grids, islands are especially vulnerable to price fluctuations for imported fossil fuels. But renewable energy deployment can help.

Elizabeth Press, IRENA

“SIDS can not only play their part, but can also lead in the global effort to mitigate climate change through the rapid deployment of renewables” Elizabeth Press, Deputy Director, Innovation and Technology Centre

IRENA launched its SIDS Lighthouses Initiative at the Climate Summit in New York on 23 September 2014. By 2020, the Lighthouse Initiative aims to:

  • Mobilize USD 500 million
  • Deploy 100 MW of new solar PV
  • Deploy 20 MW of new wind power
  • Deploy small hydropower and geothermal energy and a number marine technology projects in progress
  • Ensure all participating SIDS develop renewable energy road maps

By speeding the uptake of renewable energy on islands around the world, the Lighthouse Initiative will enable SIDS to lead by example on climate change. Maximising the use of indigenous, clean and plentiful renewable energy requires a structured, holistic approach to ensure long-term sustainability. The SIDS Lighthouse process will also capture invaluable lessons for the rest of the world.

Quote of the Day: Climate Group CEO Mark Kenber

“Business is finding that committing to renewable energy makes sense. They are making the switch for business reasons…it actually saves them money.”

Mark Kenber, CEO of the Climate Group, discussing the RE 100 campaign during a side event today at COP 20.

The RE 100 campaign aims to get 100 of the world’s top companies to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2020. IKEA, Swiss Re, BT, Formula E, H&M, KPN, Mars, Nestlé, Philips, Reed Elsevier, J. Safra Sarasin, Yoox and others have already committed.

IRENA Side Event: Government Policies and Flexible Financing Needed to Scale-Up Renewables

In this latest round of climate negotiations, two things have become clear:

  1. There is an urgent need for rapid climate action to reduce global emissions.
  2. Phasing out fossil-fuels and scaling up renewable energy is the quickest, most realistic, most cost-effective way to achieve this.

What is not yet so clear is how best to achieve this scale-up of renewables in the world energy mix. Today, IRENA coordinated a side event with various public and private sector representatives to discuss this question, share success stories of renewable energy adoption, and discuss solutions.

IRENA Director-General Adnan Amin began the dialogue by providing some context based on IRENA research findings:

  • ECONOMIC: Renewables are now the most cost-competitive source of power in many parts of the world. Investment in new renewable capacity has exceeded investment in new fossil-based power generation capacity for three years running.
  • SOCIAL: The renewable energy sector employed 6.5 million people in 2013. Renewables brought power to 13 billion people off the grid in Bangladesh. 7 million premature deaths are linked to air pollution annually.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL: Renewables are 250 times less carbon intensive than coal. Doubling the share of renewables in the world’s energy mix would reduce emissions enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

(Presentation slides)

Two key areas that must be addressed in order to scale-up renewables are policy and financing. Representatives from Sweden and the United Arab Emirates discussed how government policies in their countries have enabled the implementation of renewables.

Policy Panel

“Sweden has the ambition to have a climate neutral society by 2050 and we are on track to meet this goal. Thanks to national policies, Sweden has achieved a 23% emission reduction since 1990 and our GDP has risen 60% during that same period. This proves that renewables make economic sense. Our dependency on fossil fuel has been reduced by half, and we are now one of the most renewable energy-dependent economies.” – Katja Awiti, Deputy Director General, Climate Department, Ministry of Climate and Environment Sweden

“The United Arab Emirates recognized early that our economy was based on one thing, oil and gas, so we needed to diversify. Renewable energy projects now make economic sense, specifically solar for our region. If renewables work in the UAE, they can work anywhere in the world.” – Majid Al Suwaidi, Chief Climate Change Negotiator, UAE

Representatives from the Climate Investment Funds and E3G further discussed the necessity of concessional financing in scaling up renewables. Concessional financing offers flexible or lenient terms for repayment, usually at lower than market interest rates.

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“This event is discussing a topic at the heart of what is going here at COP. According to the IPCC, 65% of our carbon budget has already been used. We need to rapidly scale up renewable energy projects and decrease emissions. CIF has already funded and implemented 61 projects towards this end.” – Mafalda Duarte, Manager of the USD 8.3 billion Climate Investment Funds

“Because most of the funding for renewable energy projects is up front and therefore involves a great amount of risk, concessional finance to buy down this risk is vital. This helps share risks with the private sector and makes projects more appealing to private sector funding.” – Dr. Amal Lee Amin, Associate Director of E3G

IRENA also offers concessional financing through the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. The Project Facility has already earmarked USD 100 million in project funding over its first two cycles and will provide an additional USD 250 million in its remaining five cycles. Projects approved for funding to date include solar, hydropower, biomass, wind and hybrid projects in Ecuador, Mali, Maldives, Mauritania, Samoa and Sierra Leone.

New Initiative To Measure, Report and Enhance Action on Renewables and Efficiency

1GTThe 1 Gigaton Coalition was officially launched today at a special event hosted by the Government of Norway and UNEP at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru.

The coalition will help developing countries in particular promote achievements in reducing GHG emissions resulting from their actions on renewable energy and energy efficiency. It will help countries measure and report their GHG emissions’ savings, highlight their contributions to closing the emissions gap and encourage them to enhance their action in the energy sector.
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Speakers included IRENA’s Director General, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Executive Director of UNEP, COP 20 President from Peru and the UK Special Representative for Climate Change.

Quote of the Day From Barbara Hendricks, Federal Environment Minister of Germany

Germany will continue the expansion of renewable energies to lower emissions from fossil-fuel power plants by an additional 22 million tonnes by 2020.

Overall it is a question of gradually tackling a key challenge: power generation in Germany needs to be almost carbon-free by 2050 in order to achieve our national and European climate targets. Replacing fossil power generation with renewable energies makes the biggest contribution to this.

Barbara Hendricks, Federal Environment Minister of Germany at COP 20 side event “Meeting national climate mitigation targets: Experiences from Germany and Mexico”