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Renewables Respond to the Climate Change Challenge

Ana Zotovic, Researcher, Global Governance Program
December 10, 2015

In order to restrict global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, reliance on fossil fuels must be rapidly and drastically curtailed. Today’s global energy sector accounts for more than two thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions; adopting renewable energy technologies in this sector will play a critical role in decarbonization and in mitigating climate change.

The installed global capacity of renewables has been increasing thanks to progressive government policies, technological advances and rapid cost reductions though economies of scale (particularly in solar photovoltaic [PV] and wind). In 2014, the world invested $270 billion in clean energy, which was more than the net investment in fossil fuel power plants. In 2015, 164 countries had national renewable energy targets and, of those, 145 countries had renewable energy support policies in place. Countries such as Uruguay are leading the way with 95% of their electricity supply coming from renewable energy.

Global energy demand is expected to increase by a third by 2040, with the main demand coming from China, India, Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia. These emerging economies could capitalize on effective and affordable renewable energy technologies to meet their demand. China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has installed more new renewable energy capacity than all of Europe and the rest of the Asia Pacific region combined so far. By 2020, China plans to double its wind capacity and quadruple its solar PV capacity. The African Renewable Energy Initiative plans to develop at least 10 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in new renewable energy generation by 2020 and at least 300 GW by 2030, unlocking the continent’s huge energy potential with low-carbon energy. Small island states, which are extremely vulnerable to climate change, plan to deploy 100 megawatts (MW) of new solar PV and 20 MW of wind power by 2020.

India has made progress by committing at Paris to generate 160 GW of renewable energy by 2022. However, coal will continue to play a large role in its development and economic modernization in the coming decades. Coal, one of the most detrimental fossil fuels for the environment, unfortunately remains affordable, abundant and accessible for many countries. The annual global subsidies of more than $550 billion for fossil fuels and nuclear energy create artificially low energy prices for coal and other fossil fuels. Coal use will decline in the European union and the United States, but its use in Japan will increase to 30% by 2030. In Southeast Asia, 40% of the 400 GW of generation capacity to be added by 2040 will be coal-fired.

During the 21st Conference of the Parties meeting in Paris, Bill Gates unveiled a private investment initiative called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which is expected to raise billions of dollars for research and technologies of clean energy. This private investment initiative includes 28 of the world’s wealthiest private investors. They will work in parallel with 20 governments (including the United States, China, India and Brazil) that have made a Mission Innovation commitment to double their investments in clean energy research and development over the next five years.

We can expect a higher deployment of renewable energy in the future with continued government support, decreasing cost in technology, removal of fossil fuel subsidies and strong public-private partnerships in clean technology innovation.

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Ana ZotovicAna Zotovic is a researcher with the Global Governance Group at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. She has been involved in producing compliance reports on the environmental commitments that are set annually at the G7 and G20 summits. She is also the project and business development manager at Ontario Solar Provider (Solar Provider Group). She oversees and managed the development of over 45 solar projects in Ontario and California, working closely with government agencies, local councils, engineering companies, aboriginal groups, communities, other photovoltaic developers and property owners. She has also worked as the assistant to the Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning in Serbia, focusing on foreign and domestic investments in environmental projects in Serbia related to water and waste management, recycling, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, wildlife conservation and sustainable development.

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