If there’s one thing that the brutality of the COVID pandemic has taught us, it’s the importance of shared endeavour in the face of a disruptive shock.
In this conversation with climate policy expert Hal Harvey, the two sustainability leaders discuss why humanity has to act globally, at speed and at scale, to meet the staggering challenge of decarbonizing the global economy.
Join the Race
The global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery.
The zero-carbon power tipping point
Renewable energy has reached a decisive tipping point. Newly installed renewable power capacity increasingly costs less than the cheapest power generation options based on fossil fuels, according to a comprehensive study from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
No set back from COVID-19
The COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t setback the switch to renewable energy as companies and countries recognise its resilience in times of crisis. According to a Reuters review of data, renewable energy has increased its share of electricity production to record levels since the onset of the pandemic.
Subsidy-free clean power
Renewable energy is now frequently cheaper than coal or gas – even without subsidies. That’s the finding of a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Solar sees remarkable cost decline
The cost of renewables has seen a remarkable drop – electricity from utility-scale solar PV fell 73% between 2010-2017. Solar is now ‘cheaper than grid electricity’ in every Chinese city, one study finds.
The market takes over
When unsubsidized renewables have matured to the point where they are cheaper than fossil fuel power, the transition to a net-zero carbon power system is accelerated by market forces. No longer is the argument philosophical, it is driven by economics.
Divestment movement gathers pace
The funds committed to fossil fuel divestment now total more than $11 trillion, with almost 1,110 institutional investors pledging to act, and a growing number of leading pension funds divesting from fossil fuels, including the New York City pension fund.
Clean energy investment is booming
Global investment in new renewables capacity reached $35 billion in the first half of 2020, up 319% year-on-year to surpass the full-year 2019 record figure of $31.9 billion, defying the COVID-19 recession, according to Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance.
+40 power utilities commit to action
Globally, over 40 power utilities have committed to bold climate action, with over 20 companies committing to set science-based targets. A growing number of these have committed to set targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, including Ørsted, Iberdrola and NRG Energy.
Ørsted raises the bar for clean energy
In Europe, Ørsted transformed its entire business model to become a clean energy company and is now committed to becoming a carbon neutrality company by 2025 and achieving a carbon neutral footprint by 2040, by working with its suppliers to cut emissions.
Iberdrola ahead of the renewable curve
Iberdola Group has invested €100 billion in the energy transition over the past 20 years, making the Spanish utility a world leader in renewable energy, and is committed to investing many billions more. At year-end 2019, Iberdrola had 52,082 MW of installed capacity, and is expecting to reach 58,000 MW in the coming years.
Tata Power stops building coal plants
In India, Tata Power, India’s largest private integrated power company, is to cease building new coal-based generation projects, shifting to renewable power sources. Simultaneously, a quarter of planned coal-fired power stations were canceled in India in the first half of 2018.
Polish utility focuses on renewables
Poland’s state-run utility Tauron plans to replace most of its coal-burning power plants with renewable sources in the coming decade to adjust to EU climate policies and secure future financing.
Capacity additions dominated by renewables
In 2019, renewables accounted for 41 percent of the rise in energy demand, the largest of any energy source, even out competing natural gas, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Meanwhile, the BP Energy Outlook predicted that renewables would remain the fastest-growing energy sources over the next three decades.
Business harnesses clean power
Corporate customers are demanding clean energy as the best and most affordable way to power business growth and cut their own carbon emissions.
RE100drives renewable demand
Companies like Walmart, Danone and Apple are demanding 100% clean energy. More than 250 of the world’s most influential companies have committed to source 100% renewable electricity through the RE100 initiative. RE100 members are equivalent to the 21st largest electricity consumer in the World – using more electricity than South Africa.
Renewable energy pioneers
One in three RE100 members are now at over 75% renewable and more than 30 have already reached their 100% goals.
REscale brings clean energy collaboration
Clean energy buyers and sellers are coming together to help meet the growing demand for renewables. REscale connects supply and demand to create tangible business opportunities and has led to new renewable energy deals. In 2017, power purchase agreements signed by WBCSD member companies increased 54%.
REBA unlocks US energy market
In the US, the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) connects over 200 large energy buyers with over 150 clean energy developers and service providers that, together with NGO partners, are unlocking the US marketplace for all non-residential energy buyers to lead a rapid transition to a cleaner, prosperous, zero-carbon energy future.
Governments embrace renewables
Governments around the world are harnessing the opportunity of rapid renewables deployment to ensure safe and reliable access to energy while protecting the health of their citizens.
Countries prove 100% clean energy is possible
The scale of change is dramatic. There are already seven countries at or very near 100% renewable power grids. These are: Iceland (100 percent), Paraguay (100), Costa Rica (99), Norway (98.5), Austria (80), Brazil (75), and Denmark (69.4).
Pathways to 100% renewable power
More countries are setting out pathways to be 100% renewable by 2050 – assisted by researchers at Stanford University, who have plotted out clear roadmaps for 139 nations to transition to 100% renewables by 2050.
India set to exceed renewable targets
India is increasing its target for renewable energy capacity to 227 GW by 2022 because the country is well on its way to exceeding its previous target of 175 GW. This would be nearly three times the 77.5 GW installed renewable capacity in 2018.
Powering Past Coal Alliance
More than 30 countries, including the UK, Canada, France, Finland and Mexico are part of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, committing to phase out existing coal-fired power stations and place a moratorium on new ones. Over 40 organisations and nearly 30 sub-national governments have also joined the alliance.
States step up in renewable switch
In the United States, 13 states, districts and territories, as well as more than 200 cities and counties, have committed to a 100 percent clean electricity target — and dozens of cities have already hit it, according to a report from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The states that have legislated their renewable electricity targets include – California, New York, Hawaii and Nevada.
Germany sets end date for coal phase-out
Germany’s coal exit commission has agreed that the country should end coal-fired power generation by 2038, with an option to end it by 2035.
Rising public awareness
Climate Strikes, radical activism, public opinion, TV & film and social media all demonstrate feelings of impotence and anger at the slow speed of change. For many citizens, it’s personal because they are concerned for their own health. Pollution from coal-fired power-stations and car exhaust pollution – is literally killing people.
Health problems linked to coal power
Air pollution from coal-fired power plants is linked with asthma, cancer, heart and lung ailments, neurological problems, acid rain, global warming, and other severe environmental and public health impacts, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
China suffers ‘airpocalypse’
In 2012, more than 1 million people reportedly died from air pollution in China. When a thick smog gripped the country in January 2013, the air pollution was so bad it was called an “airpocalypse”.
The impact of deteriorating air quality
Arvind Kumar, a chest surgeon at New Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, has a ringside view of the toll that northern India’s deteriorating air quality is taking on its residents. When he started practicing 30 years ago, some 80 to 90% of his lung cancer patients were smokers. But in the past six years, half of Dr Kumar’s lung cancer patients have been non-smokers.
Citizens bear the impact
To Dr Kumar, the dramatic shift in the profiles of lung cancer patients has a clear cause: air fouled by dirty diesel exhaust fumes, construction dust, rising industrial emissions and crop burning, which has created heavy loads of harmful pollutants in the air.
Citizens back the clean-energy transition
Air quality is one of the biggest drivers of cultural urgency to make the transition to clean energy. Citizens around the world are embracing renewables as a route to clean air and tackling climate change. Countless public surveys show strong backing for a rapid shift to renewables and opposition to fossil fuels.
More utilities need to step up
Less than 10% of the 50 electric utilities assessed by the the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) are taking Paris-Agreement-aligned climate action, according to the WBA’s second Climate and Energy Benchmark.
Responding to employment challenges
There are very valid concerns about jobs as we rapidly shift from fossil fuel based power generation. Some of these can be allayed by the employment opportunities created up and down the supply chain by the widespread adoption of renewable energy. Worldwide, the sector employed 11 million people in 2018, up from 10.3 million in 2017, according to IRENA.
Subsidy concerns can be overcome
Renewables’ dependence on subsidies is rapidly diminishing. They are already the cheapest source of electricity in many parts of the world, with global technology costs having fallen to a record low, according to IRENA. Many recent renewable projects have been achieved without subsidies, including a wind farm in the Netherlands and one in Germany. Momentum behind ‘subsidy-free’ renewables is growing and technology costs have fallen dramatically.
Cost concerns are easing
The absolute scale of the investment required for energy transitions over 2015-2030 – an additional $300-600 billion annually – does not create a major macroeconomic challenge, but it implies a major shift in investment flows from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies and energy efficient equipment and infrastructure, according to the ETC.
Reliability can be addressed
Regulators in California are repeatedly choosing renewable energy plus storage over new gas plants, because of voltage regulation advantages as well as cost. In Australia, the Tesla big battery is helping to avoid price spikes and manage power outages rapidly and safely.
65 million new low-carbon jobs
Taking ambitious climate action could generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030, equivalent to today’s entire workforces of the UK and Egypt combined, according to New Climate Economy research.
Enel works towards a just transition
Enel is leading the charge for a just transition in the energy sector, closing 13 GW of coal by 2050 in Italy whilst working closely with its unions and workers to retrain employees to power their renewable energy growth plans.
Poland engages with labor unions
Poland was forced to face coal restructuring that shrunk employment in the coal mining sector by 75% in only a decade and a half. The government worked with labor unions to develop a mining social package and special privileges for mining communes.
Canada’s just transition task force
A national commitment to phase out coal-fired electricity in Canada was coupled with a national task force made up of industry, labour, environment and coal community representatives. This group travelled across the country to listen to Canadians regarding the support and government policies they need to weather the transition and come out stronger.
Reskilling employees in Australia
ALG Energy’s Liddell coal power station in Australia is re-making itself into a renewable hub, shrinking its overall carbon footprint by 18% and making a 20% reduction in megawatt hour costs. By planning for the transition with its unions, all workers had the option to re-skill or re-deploy, with no forced redundancies.
PRESSING THE ‘ON’ SWITCH FOR NET ZERO ENERGY
It is 2050 and energy systems worldwide have been decarbonized thanks to a range of innovative solutions, investments and policy choices that set us on the pathway decades earlier. The COVID-19 pandemic response proved a milestone in kick-starting the shift towards today’s decarbonized and resilient energy system as it sparked a range of critical behavioural changes and recovery-related green investments. Reforms to our institutional, legal and regulatory frameworks gave – and continue to give – a real boost to the decarbonization of electricity, transport, heating and cooling. Currently, the energy sector provides 100 million jobs worldwide.
The energy we use is primarily electric and at least 80 percent of our electricity is being generated from renewable energy sources, and 100% from zero-carbon sources. Energy intensity has been dramatically reduced. Our present energy infrastructure is more resilient to market shocks and the impacts of climate change than the heavily centralized fossil- and nuclear-fueled systems of the past.
In addition, the active participation of the millions of people who produce, trade and consume energy has made the global energy system far more democratic and fair. We now have universal access to energy services, enabled by affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy sources. While the early phases of the transition were somewhat tumultuous, we succeeded in creating a fair and just transition. This is a major contributor to today’s thriving societies.
Despite the ongoing challenges of our changing climate, the future beyond 2050 looks bright. The global energy system is now decarbonised, resilient and efficient and sustainably delivers the services we need for an even more inclusive economy and healthy society.
- By 2025, at least 100 national governments to set clear targets and enabling policy frameworks for transiting to 100% clean power by the 2040s.
- Provide the necessary investment and market incentives to achieve electrification levels of 20% in passenger vehicles, 50% in buildings, and 30% in industry and heavy transport by 2030.
- All OECD countries to have phased out coal in their power sectors by 2030, with all other major carbon-emitting countries to have followed by 2040.
- By 2021, 8 major oil and gas companies and 90 utilities to have adopted science-based net zero commitments.
- By 2025, at least 25 GW green hydrogen capacity under construction, achieving costs of $1.5/kg.
- All businesses to commit to purchase 100% renewable energy and to set targets for reduced intensity of their operations.
- Scale up renewable energy financing whilst discontinuing financing new coal projects by 2021.
- Support the roll-out of green hydrogen infrastructure by making substantial contributions to a cumulative investment target of US$100 billion by 2025 and US$1 trillion by 2030.
- All leading banks and investment firms to make robust commitments to invest in energy transition assets and infrastructure, and to reallocate capital investments and loans to Net Zero-aligned energy companies.
- Support research into, demonstration and deployment of, breakthrough energy solutions, such as green hydrogen and sustainable fuels for aviation and shipping.
- Continue to advance the commercial competitiveness of clean energy by improving the efficiency and cost of wind, solar and other renewable power solutions.
- Undertake advocacy with governments to accelerate the transition to decarbonised energy, whilst ensuring a just transition for workers and communities.
- Shift energy suppliers to prioritise companies that guarantee the provision of 100% renewable energy.