The climate agreement reached in Paris is provoking a flurry of caveats, criticisms and cautions. Many of those criticisms are warranted and there’s a lot of work ahead to make sure countries live up to their promises. But we should not miss a chance to celebrate a historic turning point.
World leaders finally made commitments to clean, renewable energy that will help to ensure a safer, healthier and more prosperous future for us all. The agreement signals that the age of fossil fuels is coming to a close, and the age of renewable energy is dawning.
In many ways, the Paris deal is the mother of all market signals. To deliver on the promises world leaders made, we will need to leave coal and oil in the ground and move toward a complete reliance on clean energy. Let’s not miss the writing on the wall: fossil fuels are a losing bet, while renewables offer economic opportunity.
This is true for all segments of society – from energy investors to individual households that can save money on their energy bills by switching to rooftop solar power.
The Paris pact ratifies an ongoing renewable energy revolution spreading across the globe. Each year since 2013, the world has added more power-generating capacity fueled by renewable sources than from coal, natural gas and oil combined. Global investment in renewable energy hit $310bn last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. And major companies are pledging to go 100% renewable, too.
Much of that growth in clean, renewable energy has come from the subnational movement, in which cities, states and regions are banding together and leading even if their national governments are lagging. This bottom-up approach – one that so many people around the world are already part of – is what was most alive about Paris.
It is what drove so many people to COP 21 this year, and is the driving force that makes so many hopeful. In my home state of New York, for example, we have a robust movement to ban fracking, courageously embraced by governor Andrew Cuomo, and we support his leadership on renewable energy. We have found a new way of approaching this problem. Whole towns, communities and cities are racing to a full reliance on renewable energy, despite the gridlock in Washington, DC. This is where so many sense real hope coming out of Paris.
Meanwhile, cities from London to Los Angeles, from Jakarta to Rotterdam, are pioneering innovative approaches to cutting their own carbon footprints. Momentum is growing, too: following the meeting, Republicans and Democrats in San Diego, America’s eighth largest city, unanimously agreed to transition to 100% clean energy.
What cities are doing, countries can do, too. As my co-founder at The Solutions Project, Stanford professor, Mark Jacobson, told the US Congress last month, transitioning to 100% clean energy is not only good for the environment, human health and the economy, it is doable. His team has developed roadmaps showing exactly how 139 countries can each completely transition to renewable energy by 2050 using technology we have right now.
The Paris climate agreement brings that vision – of a world where all people have access to 100% clean energy – closer to reality. Much more has to go right if nations are to fulfill their promises over the coming years. But finally, the wind is at our backs.
The voices of people gathered in Paris – from big-city mayors intent on making urban life better, to indigenous people and small island countries fighting for their right to live in some of Earth’s most unspoiled places – echoed hundreds of millions of voices, all around the world, demanding action.
In response to those demands, world leaders have finally agreed to steer us away from a climate disaster. This is a moment of real hope. It is a recognition, at long last, that we’re all in this together.
And as negotiators in Paris acknowledged, some countries will need financial help to move to renewable energy. But the payoff for investing in them – through mechanisms such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund – will be tremendous. Just as poorer nations skipped landline phones for mobile telephones, they can skip generations of coal-fired power plants for clean, renewable power.
In wealthy nations we benefit from the switch to renewables, too. The United States has tripled wind and solar capacity since 2008, and last year, we installed as much solar-generating capacity every three weeks as we did in all of 2008. That translates into job growth – the solar industry already employs more people than the coal industry, by some measures – as well as cleaner and healthier air.
Critics of the Paris deal are right to point out that it cannot “solve” climate change on its own. Countries will have to work hard to fulfill the promises they made last week, and set even more ambitious targets in the future. And the people of the world must stay engaged, doing their part to tackle climate change while holding political and economic leaders accountable.
There is much to be done. But after years of walking in circles, Paris was a giant step in the right direction. Now the renewable energy race is on, and we need to run – not walk – to the finish line.
The solar PV industry could employ 9.7 million people by 2030, more than 10 times as many as it does today. Jobs in wind power could grow to 7.8 million over the same period, according to a new study.
The investment necessary to move toward 100% renewable energy by 2050 would be more than covered by future savings in fuel costs, according to a new study by Greenpeace, researched in collaboration with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).
World Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook 2015 also predicts that more jobs would be created in the energy sector – with the solar industry alone employing as many people in the future as the coal industry does today.
The report examines the current state of energy supply, the political challenges of maintaining global temperatures below critical levels and the increasing benefits and breakthroughs of renewable energy that could lead to a 100% sustainable energy future.
“Dynamic change is happening in energy supply, but the change needs to happen faster,” Greenpeace states. “This energy [r]evolution scenario proposes a pathway to a 100% sustainable energy supply, ending CO2 emissions and phasing out nuclear energy, and making redundant new oil exploration in the arctic and deep sea waters such as off the coast of Brazil. It also demonstrates that this transformation increases employment in the energy sector.”
Within 15 years, renewables’ share of electricity could triple from 21% today to 64% — almost two thirds of global electricity supply could come from renewable energy, accordintg to Greenpeace. Even with the rapid development of countries like Brazil, China and India, CO2 emissions could fall from the current 30 gigatonnes a year to 20 gigatonnes by 2030, the study finds.
With regards to jobs, the solar PV industry could employ 9.7 million people by 2030, more than 10 times as many as it does today. Jobs in wind power could grow to 7.8 million over the same period.
Sven Teske of Greenpeace, the lead author of the report, says, “The solar and wind industries have come of age and are cost-competitive with coal. It is very likely they will overtake the coal industry in terms of jobs and energy supplied within the next decade.”
“It’s the responsibility of the fossil fuel industry to prepare for these changes in the labor market and make provisions. Governments need to manage the dismantling of the fossil fuel industry which is moving rapidly into irrelevance.”
Teske adds that every dollar invested in new fossil fuel projects “is high risk capital which might end up as stranded investment.”
The necessary investment is more than covered by savings in future fuel costs. The average additional investment needed in renewables until 2050 is about $1 trillion a year, the report calculates. Because renewables don’t require fuel, the savings over the same period are $1.07 trillion a year, more than meeting the costs of the required investment. The study says the cross-over point could occur between 2025 and 2030.
“We must not let lobbying by vested interests in the fossil fuel industry stand in the way of a switch to renewable energy, the most effective and fairest way to deliver a clean and safe energy future, so more than meet the costs of the investment,” says Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International.
“I would urge all those who say ‘it can’t be done’ to read this report and recognise that it can be done, it must be done and it will be for the benefit of everyone if it is done.”
The Paris climate summit in December will offer global leaders the opportunity to take the necessary and critical steps to fight climate change by accelerating the transformation of the world’s energy sector away from fossil fuels and towards 100% renewable energy by mid-century, Greenpeace states.
“With this Greenpeace scenario, the Paris climate agreement must deliver a long-term vision for phasing out coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy by mid-century, reaching the goal of 100% renewables with energy access for all,” Naidoo adds.
The current situation
The Greenpeace study points out that the energy sector is changing rapidly. “Renewable energy technologies have become mainstream in most countries as a result of dramatically falling prices. A global renewable energy supply is no longer science-fiction, but work in progress.”
Citing data from REN21, the report says renewables contributed 60% of new power generation worldwide last year and in some countries the share was even higher. The three main power generation technologies, solar PV, wind and hydro together added 127 GW of new power generation capacity worldwide in 2014.
This increase in market share has driven huge cost reductions, especially for PV and wind power, forcing other renewable energy technologies to reduce costs, Greenpeace says — and this despite an environment in which subsidies are weighted heavily in favor of fossil fuels, which receive a global annual subsidy of $550 billion, more than double the subsidy for renewables.
Greenpeace describes power generation as “the most dynamic sector.” Renewable energy supplied 21% of electricity generation in 2012, with hydropower being the main renewable source. Heating and transport lag behind. The number of electric vehicles worldwide doubled year on year, however, although the number remains small at 665,000. E-mobility and recent developments in battery storage, including significant cost reductions, could herald a change in the role of renewable energy in the transport sector, the study says.
While the emissions landscape is changing rapidly, fossil fuels still account for 81.2% of the world’s primary energy supply. Nevertheless, in 2014, for the first time in 40 years, global energy-related CO2 emissions remained stable in spite of continued economic growth, thanks mainly to declining coal consumption in China. If global mitigation efforts are strengthened, Greenpeace states, this trend will continue.
The organization warns, thought that the transition to renewables needs to happen more quickly if it is to keep pace with the growth in energy demand and the necessary replacement of fossil fuel-based energy supply.