A new energy system is emerging, but unless the world steps up its spending, it will be too little too late to limit average global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. That is the conclusion of a new report previewed last week by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Prior to the pandemic, annual CO2 emissions were continuing to increase year-on-year, rising 0.6% in 2019. That trend was reversed last year as the world locked down to curb the spread of Covid-19, but in the absence of new policies and investment, this fall in emissions will be a mere blip. In China, for example, emissions from heavy industry are already at pre-Covid levels.
Current climate and energy policies are not commensurate with the Paris Agreement – they are projected to result in about 2.9°C of warming, or a scenario that could see sea levels rise by several metres, equatorial regions uninhabitable due to desertification, and billions of climate refugees set adrift worldwide.
Change has started. “The energy transition is already taking place and is unstoppable,” writes says Francesco La Camera, director-general of IRENA, in his foreword to the new report.
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He cites the plummeting price of renewables, the fact that over 170 countries have renewables targets, and a growing understanding among politicians and business leaders that adopting clean energy strategies makes economic sense.
“A clear vision of a new energy system is emerging, based on renewable technologies and complemented by green hydrogen and modern bioenergy,” La Camera says. “This new system is technically viable and ready for accelerated and widespread adoption.”
However, as Energy Monitor’s Weekly Data shows, massive changes to funding will be required to meet IRENA’s 1.5°C temperature rise scenario. Investment in renewables will have to more than triple compared with what is currently on the cards, while investment in energy efficiency and infrastructure must increase by nearly $30trn. On the other hand, planned investment in fossil fuels will have to be massively curtailed.
Overall, investments in energy over the next 30 years will have to increase from $98trn to $131trn. This translates into additional annual investment of $1.1trn – a figure roughly the same size as the economy of Mexico, but only one-twentieth the size of the US economy.
“It will not be easy,” La Camera writes, “but we have no choice.”
Nick Ferris is a data journalist based in London.