Global Energy Decarbonization Tipping Point At Hand, IRENA Asserts

Worldwide energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions can be reduced 70 percent by 2050 and phased out completely by 2060, and with net positive effects on the global and national economies, according to a new study from IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Realizing those targets would be sufficient to achieve the emissions reductions goals set out in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of limiting global mean temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or less. That’s the level scientific consensus has determined is the upper limit, or tipping point, for irreversible global warming and realization of worst-case scenario impacts.

The focal point for global “decarbonization” has to be reducing GHG emissions in the energy sector, which accounts for nearly 2/3 the worldwide total, IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin highlighted. “Critically, the economic case for the energy transition has never been stronger. Today around the world, new renewable power plants are being built that will generate electricity for less cost than fossil-fuel power plants,” Amin was quoted in a news release.

Global “decarbonization” is within reach

The path to decarbonization

Critically important, “decarbonization” can fuel sustainable economic growth and create jobs across the fast growing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean technology sectors, Amin continued.

“The Paris Agreement reflected an unprecedented international determination to act on climate…We are in a good position to transform the global energy system, but success will depend on urgent action, as delays will raise the costs of decarbonization,” he emphasized.

Getting down to financial and economic “brass tacks,” IRENA estimates that an additional US$29 trillion of investment will be required out to 2050 to achieve a 70 percent reduction in global energy sector GHG emissions. As big a number as that is, it represents just a 0.4 percent share of global GDP.

Furthermore, IRENA’s macroeconomic analysis suggests that the resulting socioeconomic stimulus, coupled with other pro-growth policies, would:

  • boost global GDP by 0.8 percent in 2050;
  • generate new jobs in the renewable energy sector that would more than offset job losses in the fossil fuel industry, with further jobs being created by energy efficiency activities, and;
  • improve human welfare through important additional environmental and health benefits thanks to reduced air pollution.

Charting the course to energy decarbonization

Global energy supply and demand

Charting a path to the 70 percent by 2050 and 100 percent by 2060 global energy decarbonization goals, IRENA projects that energy-related GHG emissions will need to be reduced 9.5 billion metric tons per year in order to cap global warming to no more than 2ºC above pre-industrial era temperatures.

Ninety percent of this can be achieved by ramping up deployment of renewable energy and improving energy efficiency, IRENA says. Accounting for 24 percent of global power generation and 16 percent of primary energy supply today, renewables should account for 80 percent and 65 percent respectively by 2050.

In addition to wholesale reliance on renewables, distributed energy resource management, and smart grid technology, buildings, industry, and transport need to make much greater use of bioenergy, as well as solar heating and electricity from renewable sources as substitutes for conventional fossil fuel energy sources, IRENA highlights.

Electric vehicles (Evs), for instance, need to become the predominant type of vehicle in use worldwide by 2050. In addition, liquid biofuel production needs to increase 10-fold by 2050, and high-efficiency, all-electric “green” buildings need to become the norm.

Key to realizing all this, governments worldwide need to create supportive, integrated policy frameworks that serve to redesign energy markets. Furthermore, regulatory mechanisms need to send stronger price signals to market participants, as well as focus on expanding sustainable energy access population-wide, according to IRENA.

*Images credit: IRENA

Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger
A product of the New York City public school system, Andrew Burger went on to study geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, work in the wholesale money and capital markets for a major Japanese bank and earn an MBA in finance.

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