The global effort against climate change has been brought much closer to the forefront over the past few years, with new initiatives, grants, plans and proposals being put forth by governing bodies with increasing frequency.
In the UK, new measures as varied as the export tariff for those producing their own renewable energy, local efficiency incentives, the now-defunct Green Homes Grant, company and road tax benefits on electric cars, and new energy performance standards for the domestic construction sector comprise just a small part of the impetus driving both public and private sectors toward a more sustainable future.
Still, the process of securing our energy sector and working towards a total emancipation from damaging fossil fuels such as oil and gas is not linear, and there will be – and have been – plenty of setbacks, detours and pauses on the road to sustainability.
For the general public, this can become incredibly frustrating. As individuals, we can often feel as though there is only so much any of us can do to contribute to the fight for a safer and cleaner future, and it can easily begin to feel as though action is being deferred time and time again by talk, deliberation, and hesitation.
New insights, however, from the International Renewable Energy Agency look ready to offer a new impetus for governments around the world. While some of the findings put forth within their report may, at first glance, appear quite discomfiting to anyone who had hoped that the UK was headed toward significant change, there is certainly some light to be found – provided it can invoke a renewed commitment from international governments. Read more below.
What is the Current Verdict?
In essence, we are not working fast enough – and, as a result, we are running out of time.
In March of 2021, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released an outlook report, which specified two particular areas of concern.
The first is our escalating demand for energy. With the world taking massive strides forward in terms of technological innovation, so too are we becoming ever more reliant on it. It is all to easy for us to imagine that we have reached a plateau in the global demand for electricity, and that creating a more sustainable future simply means encouraging renewable energy to catch up with that demand. Unfortunately, it is not that simple, and global energy consumption is still rising drastically year on year.
As a result, the demand for renewable energy also increases – but far beyond what many of us consider to be an immovable goalpost.
The second concern is that, while we are all aware of the fact that we possess a finite amount of time in which to make this change, this time is quickly running out. According to the director general at the International Renewable Energy Agency, “The gap between where we are and where we should be is not decreasing but widening […] We need a drastic acceleration of energy transitions to make a meaningful turnaround.”
In other words, in order for any of these efforts, goals, and transitions to truly impact the future – to avoid those worst case scenarios that we have all grown so used to hearing about – the goalpost can not only be shifted by our rising demand for energy, but it must also be repositioned by governments around the world.
Is 2050 Still a Significant Date?
The year 2050 will always represent a conspicuous point on the horizon. In the global effort against climate change, our century’s mid-point has long been used as a pivotal moment to look ahead to. This point could, without real change, come to symbolise a bleak point in human history; with real, significant, and widespread change, it could well stand as a turning point at which the human race takes a remarkable step in the right direction, and changes the projected course of history.
However, it is now becoming clear that 2050 can no longer be seen as the distant goal mouth that it has come to represent, and that its remoteness means that governments are failing strike while the iron is hot and are, instead, continuing on in complacency.
How Does Renewable Energy Fit Within the IRENA Roadmap?
The International Renewable Energy Agency included within their report a new and detailed breakdown of the extent to which global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced before 2050, and how governments can achieve it.
As it stands, energy-related greenhouses gasses currently comprise more than 80% of Europe’s total emissions – a fact which offers a great deal of insight into why so much attention is being focussed onto this area.
In the report, IRENA states that the world’s carbon budget – or, in other words, the cumulative emissions that we can allow ourselves before surpassing the point of no return for climate change – is nearing completion. Without remarkable change, this budget could be depleted within a decade – a much closer deadline than 2050.
This is, in no uncertain terms, terrifying news for all of us. For so long now, the concept of a future ravaged by our unsustainable practices and greenhouse emissions has always felt distant enough that we needn’t place it at the top of our list of impending worries.
The prospect of us reaching the very limits of what our planet can cope with in a matter of years should be sufficient to throw into sharp relief the immediacy of the threat.
According to Irena, the private sector will represent a key player in the fight to decarbonise our energy production on a wider scale – and faster than we may once have anticipated. Factors such as increased commercial solar installation and a commitment to enhancing the infrastructure for electric vehicle charging will take on a central role when it comes to bringing government initiatives into tangible, real-world examples that signal true change around the world.
What is Needed?
Within IRENA’s report, it is suggested that the world has already reached at least one significant milestone, having now moved beyond the peak of the global demand for oil. These findings are supported by BP, who released a study in September of last year demonstrating how global oil demand has entered into an irreversible decline, and may well begin to plummet rapidly in the coming years.
Similarly, IRENA’s report stated that the peak for gas will pass in the next few years – although this stands in direct contrast to predictions from Royal Dutch Shell plc.
At the same time, however, our dependence on electricity is continuing to grow tremendously – placing more pressure than ever before on global energy production.
As a result, it is imperative that governing bodies prioritise the roll out of renewable energy sources, such as mass solar systems, to meet not only with the demand behind left behind by our efforts to distance ourselves from fossil fuels, but also the growing demand for electricity.
What is Expected to Happen?
This is something about which very few people are able to feel sure. According to IRENA, and in spite of the many setbacks the world has experienced since governing bodies en masse first made a commitment to a cleaner future for all, there remains plenty of hope on the horizon.
For one thing, the news that we have moved beyond peak demand for oil should be seen as a hugely pivotal moment for the planet – and, without a doubt, a cause for celebration.
Secondly, in many areas of the world, the upcoming months are anticipated to represent a time of significant change for the global fight against climate change. As those in charge begin to instate their modus operandi for digging economies out of the rubble of Covid-19, many are opting to prioritise the renewable energy sector, and to use this as an opportunity not only to rewrite entire countries’ energy production methods, but also to boost GDP and open up innumerable new opportunities for work.
In fact, while some of the hypotheticals laid out within IRENA’s report may seem like added worries, it could not have come at a better time. While the long-term impact of a decisive commitment to renewable energy remains somewhat abstract and grounded within a decade that, for all intents and purposes, remains very far from our own, the socio-economic impact of boosting the renewable energy sector is far more immediate.
Hope for the Near and Distant Future
One of the main struggles experienced by climate initiatives in recent months is, of course, prioritising the need for cleaner practices over the immediate threat of the pandemic. One inevitably fell behind the other, and led to significant worries over the future of the planet.
Now, however, as Covid-19 begins its slow and long-anticipated exit from centre stage, the many ways in which a significant investment into renewable energy sector can help us not only in the future, but also in the present moment, are coming to light.
Governments around the world are already committed to the notion that regaining lost economic ground in the wake of Covid-19 will require huge cash injections, and what better place to start than the very epicentre of the fight for a safer future?