Switching on clean energy can light way to development goals: UN chief

by Saket S. | @saket_07 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 18 January 2016 16:32 GMT

A man speaks on the phone as he walks past solar panels at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai, November 28, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

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Boosting renewable energy will help solve challenges, including climate change and poverty, says Ban

ABU DHABI, Jan. 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Faster adoption of clean, renewable energy will act as a catalyst for many of the world’s new Sustainable Development Goals, the U.N. secretary general said Sunday.

“With our goals clear and with the Paris Agreement (on climate change) in place, the path ahead is clear. Now we must follow it, without delay”, Ban Ki-moon said at the close of an International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) summit in Abu Dhabi over the weekend.

Boosting use of renewable energy “will provide solutions to the climate challenge, and to poverty, food security and many other challenges”, he said.

At the weekend meeting, U.N. officials argued that falling oil prices are an opportunity to speed up the adoption of renewable energy, as they are freeing space in the budgets of many countries – money that may be harder to find again if oil prices return to previous higher levels.

In particular, lower oil prices could give countries the financial space to remove their fossil fuel subsidies, seen as an important step in levelling the energy playing field, said Christiana Figueres, the U.N.’s climate chief.

She said national plans to act on climate change, submitted by 188 countries as part of a new international climate change agreement agreed last month in Paris, should drive faster adoption of renewable energy because the plans are “actually their national policies”.

If countries seize the new opportunities, the share of renewable energy used worldwide could double by 2030, reducing climate-changing carbon emissions by half, said a new IRENA report.

The cost of solar electric cells has fallen 80 percent since 2008, making renewable energy increasingly cheap and competitive, it said.

If renewable can win a 36 percent share of the global energy market by 2030, the global gross domestic product could rise by as much as 1.1 percent, pumping $1.3 trillion into the global economy, said the report, which outlined the benefits of such a switch.

Moving toward more renewable energy would also boost the number of people employed in clean energy from 9.2 million today to 24 million by 2030, said the report, which looked at links between renewable energy and GDP, trade balances and the welfare of countries.

“The recent Paris agreement sent a strong signal for countries to move from negotiation to action and rapidly decarbonise the energy sector,” said Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA’s director-general, at a gathering of around 140 countries in Abu Dhabi.


Making social progress and cutting use of fossil fuels “is no longer an either/or equation,” he said. “Thanks to the growing business case for renewable energy, an investment in one is an investment in both.”

To hold global warming under 2 degree Celsius, investments in the range of $500 billion to $750 billion by 2030 will be needed, the report said. Government spending would support 15 percent of these investments but most would come from the private sector.

The changes come as world demand for energy continues to grow. Over the past 40 years, the world population grew from 4 billion to 7 billion people and electricity generation grew by more than 250 percent, the report said.

By 2030, world population is expected to hit 8 billion people and electricity generation is forecast to grow by 70 percent from 2011 levels, the report said.

Today, 1.3 billion people are still without access to electricity. At the current pace of expansion of access, about 1 billion people will lack electricity in 2030 and 2.5 billion will still rely on wood and other biomass sources of energy for cooking, the report said.

Ramping up renewable energy could give poor people cheaper and quicker access to energy, helping meet both climate change targets and Sustainable Development Goals, officials said.

“Electricity, education and employment are a challenge in our country and there is enough potential in renewable energy to meet all of them”, Rosaline J. Smith, a member of Sierra Leone’s parliament, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Last year our government sent a group of 40 women to India to learn about solar panel installations, and on their return they trained hundreds of local women in our country,” she said. “It’s a new technology for a country like ours, but we know its potential.”

The report projects that boosting the use of renewable energy for things like transport and solar heating for buildings could help reduce fossil fuel use even beyond projected levels in countries such as Japan, India, Korea and the European Union.

Solar and wind power are expected to remain the leading renewable technologies for investment until 2020, with Asia, Europe and North America driving the market, but some of the fastest increases in use coming in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said.

(Reporting by Saket S.; editing by Laurie Goering; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and corruption. Visit www.trust.org/climate)

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