Researchers say the amount of electricity generated by burning fossil fuels has likely peaked globally, as emerging markets invest in clean, cheap renewables compared to coal, oil and gas.
That’s the conclusion of a report released Wednesday by environmental think tanks Carbon Tracker in the UK and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) in India. Researchers say emerging markets will provide 88% of the growth in electricity demand over the next two decades, and say these markets are increasingly overtaking polluting energy sources that are not competitive.
Obviously, fossil fuel power plants have not disappeared, said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of CEEW and co-author of the report. But the new electrical capacity is “almost entirely likely to be non-fossil fuels.”
About one in nine people on the planet do not have access to electricity, mainly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The leaders of the poorest countries have historically had to choose between raising the standard of living and protecting the climate and people’s health. Two recent studies estimate that between 1 million and 8 million people die each year breathing dirty air from burning coal, oil and gas.
But as the cost of renewables crumbles, that trade-off begins to fade. Countries like Kenya and Nigeria – with rapidly growing populations but low emissions – could completely ignore electricity from fossil fuels and avoid the destructive path taken in many industrialized countries. Other countries like India and China could switch from coal to solar and wind power without relying on fossil gas. The report draws an analogy with the telecommunications industry, where emerging markets have moved from a small amount of landline phones directly to mobile without wasting money on unnecessary physical infrastructure. A similar change has been observed in the banking sector. But another report finds short-term electricity trends to be of concern.
Renewable electricity generation continues to grow strongly but cannot meet growing demand, according to a separate report released Thursday by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Despite the rapid increases, the authors wrote, renewables are expected to serve only about half of the projected growth in global demand in 2021 and 2022. “Fossil fuels fill most of the void,” the director tweeted. IEA Executive, Fatih Birol. The agency predicts a rebound in coal that would exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2021 and could reach an all-time high in 2022. Such an increase would move the world away from its goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius – and ideally no more than 1.5 C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) – compared to pre-industrial levels.
Current policies put the world on track for a catastrophic 3 degree Celsius warming this century, but scientists warn that 4 degrees is still possible if the climate is particularly sensitive to sunlight-trapping gases released during burning fossil fuels.
A landmark IEA report released in May paved the way for achieving net zero emissions by 2050. In addition to a massive expansion in renewables, policy changes include short-term changes like the ban on the sale fossil-fueled boilers by 2025; and new combustion-engine vehicles by 2035. From now on, world leaders should stop approving of oil fields, gas fields and coal mines. They should also stop approving new coal-fired power plants.
The CEEW report finds that renewable sources like solar and wind power have become the cheapest new source of electricity in 90% of the world. Electricity produced by burning fossil fuels peaked in rich countries in 2007 and has fallen by 20% since then. It peaked in South Africa in 2007, Russia in 2012, Chile in 2013, Thailand in 2015 and Turkey in 2017.
“The sun is shining in many of these countries because the economy will support it for quite a long time,” said Marcelo Mena-Carrasco, former Chilean Minister of the Environment who is also director of the Climate Action Center of the Pontificia Universidad. Catolica of Valparaiso. “Renewable energy provides a lot more jobs for the installed megawatts. Countries will seize this opportunity.
But there are other barriers. The report says that although renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels over their lifetimes, and the costs of building a wind farm or solar power plant have fallen enough to compete with newer fuel plants. fossils, the costs of obtaining the capital to build them remain high. Indeed, banks continue to lend to companies that build coal, oil and gas power plants at lower interest rates than solar and wind projects. Some governments are locked into multi-year contracts with energy companies that they cannot quickly escape.
Of the $ 2.6 trillion invested in renewable energy between 2010 and 2019, only China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa – along with several wealthy countries – managed to secure investments exceeding the $ 20 billion. In other words, the authors wrote, “the money is not yet flowing where the sun shines brightest or the wind blows strongest.”
The report finds that vested interests like the fossil fuel lobbies are holding back change. This is a particular problem for energy exporters like Russia and Saudi Arabia. But there are also around 20 million people working in fossil fuel extraction – roughly 1% of the world’s workforce – who depend on industries like coal mining for their jobs. Climate justice activists like the protest group Fridays for Future have called for a “just transition” to ensure that the costs of a new energy system do not fall on the poorest. EU lawmakers have an investment plan to mobilize 65 to 75 billion euros between 2021 and 2027 in regions that depend on fossil fuels so that “no one is left behind”.
As with signing a trade deal, there will be winners and losers, CEEW’s Ghosh said. “But if the overall gains are greater than the losses, you can offset that. This is exactly what needs to be done with the energy transition. Otherwise, he adds, “we would never have had cars, we would only have carriages. And we would never have had electricity, we always read Moby Dick because we were chasing whale fat to enlighten us.
This article has been supplied by Deutsche Welle