‘If we do not change the entire energy system, we are deluding ourselves’

Growth in renewable power needs to be supported by action elsewhere otherwise it will fail to reach its full potential, a hard hitting new report says.

Inertia in areas such as transport and heating means overall, global hunger for energy keeps increasing and eats up progress.

So says REN21’s Renewables 2020 Global Status Report (GSR), released today.

It claims the journey towards climate disaster continues, “unless we make an immediate switch to efficient and renewable energy in all sectors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Year after year, we report success after success in the renewable power sector. Indeed, renewable power has made fantastic progress. It beats all other fuels in growth and competitiveness. Many national and global organisations already cry victory.

“But our report sends a clear warning: The progress in the power sector is only a small part of the picture. And it is eaten up as the world’s energy hunger continues to increase. If we do not change the entire energy system, we are deluding ourselves,” says Rana Adib, REN21’s Executive Director.

Barriers are still nearly the same as 10 years ago in the heating, cooling and transport sectors, she said, adding: “We must also stop heating our homes and driving our cars with fossil fuels.”

She also warned against thinking an expected 8% drop in 2020 emissions from COVID-19 were some form of lasting disruption, pointing to the fact 2019 emission were the highest on record.

Meeting the Paris targets would require an annual decrease of at least 7.6% to be maintained over the next 10 years.

Read more: REN21 Trends across Europe

Adib said: “Even if the lock-downs were to continue for a decade, the change would not be sufficient. At the current pace, with the current system and current market rules, it would take the world forever to come anywhere near a no-carbon system.” 

Recovery packages offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make the shift to a low-carbon economy. But according to Adib there is a great risk for this enormous chance to be lost.

Read more: REN21 Renewable Energy Rankings by country

She said: “Many of these packages include ideas that will instead lock us further into a dirty fossil fuel system. Some directly promote natural gas, coal or oil. Others, though claiming a green focus, build the roof and forget the foundation.

“Take electric cars and hydrogen, for example. These technologies are only green if powered by renewables.”

Read more: REN21: Trends across the UK including Orkney

The report points out that “green” recovery measures, such as investment in renewables and building efficiency, are more cost effective than traditional stimulus measures and yield more returns.

It also suggests renewables deliver on job creation, energy sovereignty, accelerated energy access in developing countries, reduced emissions and air pollution.

The report highlighted:

  • Total final energy demand continues to be on the rise (1.4% annually from 2013 to 2018). Despite significant progress in renewable power generation, the share of renewables in total final energy demand barely increased (9.6% in 2013 to 11% in 2018). Compared to the power sector, the heating, cooling and transport sectors lag far behind (renewable energy share in power, 26%, heating and cooling, 10%, transport, 3%).
  • Today’s progress is largely the result of policies and regulations initiated years ago and focus on the power sector. Major barriers seen in heating, cooling and transport are still almost the same a decade on. Policies are needed to create the right market conditions.
  • The renewable energy sector employed around 11 million people worldwide in 2018
  • In 2019, the private sector signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) for a record growth of over 43% from 2018 to 2019 in new renewable power capacity.
  • The global climate strikes have reached unprecedented levels with millions of people across 150 countries. They have pushed governments to step up climate ambitions.  As of April 2020, 1490 jurisdictions – spanning 29 countries and covering 822 million citizens – had issued “climate emergency” declarations, many of which include plans and targets for more renewable-based energy systems.
  • While some countries are phasing out coal, others continued to invest in new coal-fired power plants. In addition, funding from private banks for fossil fuel projects has increased each year since the signing of the Paris Agreement, totaling USD 2.7 trillion over the last three years.  

Arthouros Zervos, President of REN21, said: “It is clear, renewable power has become mainstream and that is great to see. But the progress in this one sector should not lead us to believe that renewables are a guaranteed success.

“Governments need to take action beyond economic recovery packages.  They also need to create the rules and the environment to switch to an efficient and renewables-based energy system. Globally. Now.”

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