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Increased use of renewable energy, combined with intensified electrification, could prove decisive for the world to meet key climate goals by 2050. This study from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) highlights immediately deployable, cost-effective options for countries to fulfil climate commitments and limit the rise of global temperatures. The envisaged energy transformation would also reduce net costs and bring significant socio-economic benefits, such as increased economic growth, job creation and overall welfare gains.

The report – the second under the Global Energy Transformation banner – expands IRENA’s comprehensive roadmap, which examines technology pathways and policy implications to ensure a sustainable energy future. Ramping up electricity to over half of the global energy mix (up from onefifth currently) in combination with renewables would reduce the use of fossil fuels, responsible for most greenhousegas emissions.

As the urgency to take bold climate action grows, new analysis by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds that scaling-up renewable energy combined with electrification could deliver more than three quarters of the energy-related emission reductions needed to meet global climate goals. According to the latest edition of IRENA’s Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050, launched at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue in Berlin on April 9, 2019, pathways to meet 86 per cent of global power demand with renewable energy exist. Electricity would cover half of the global final energy mix. Global power supply would more than double over this period, with the bulk of it generated from renewable energy, mostly solar PV and wind.

“The race to secure a climate safe future has entered a decisive phase,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “Renewable energy is the most effective and readily-available solution for reversing the trend of rising CO2 emissions. A combination of renewable energy with a deeper electrification can achieve 75 per cent of the energy-related emission reduction needed.”

An accelerated energy transition in line with the Roadmap 2050 would also save the global economy up to $160 trillion cumulatively over the next 30 years in avoided health costs, energy subsidies and climate damages. Every dollar spent on energy transition would pay off up to seven times. The global economy would grow by 2.5 per cent in 2050. However, climate damages can lead to significant socioeconomic losses.

“The shift towards renewables makes economic sense,” added Mr La Camera. “By mid-century, the global economy would be larger, and jobs created in the energy sector would boost global employment by 0.2 per cent. Policies to promote a just, fair and inclusive transition could maximize the benefits for different countries, regions, and communities. This would also accelerate the achievement of affordable and universal energy access. The global energy transformation goes beyond a transformation of the energy sector. It is a transformation of our economies and societies.”

But action is lagging, the report warns. While energy-related CO2 emissions continued to grow by over 1 per cent annually on average in the last five years, emissions would need to decline by 70 per cent below their current level by 2050 to meet global climate goals. This calls for a significant increase in national ambition and more aggressive renewable energy and climate targets.

IRENA’s roadmap recommends that national policy should focus on zerocarbon long-term strategies. It also highlights the need to boost and harness systemic innovation. This includes fostering smarter energy systems through digitalization as well as the coupling of end-use sectors, particularly heating and cooling and transport, via greater electrification, promoting decentralization and designing flexible power grids.

“The energy transformation is gaining momentum, but it must accelerate even faster,” concluded Mr La Camera. “The UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the review of national climate pledges under the Paris Agreement are milestones for raising the level of ambition. Urgent action on the ground at all levels is vital, in particular unlocking the investments needed to further strengthen the momentum of this energy transformation. Speed and forwardlooking leadership will be critical – the world in 2050 depends on the energy decisions we take today.”

Renewables already make up more than half of newly installed power-generation capacity. Yet their overall share in the energy mix (including power, heat and transport) needs to grow six times faster, IRENA’s analysis shows.

National climate commitments under the Paris Agreement largely hinge on energy decarbonization. The historic 2015 climate deal, endorsed nearly worldwide, calls for keeping the rise in average global temperatures “well below” two degrees Celsius (2°C) during the present century, compared to pre-industrial levels. Achieving a climate-safe future, however, depends on swift global action. Current plans and policies, including Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), fall far short. Energy-related emissions have risen around 1% yearly since 2015, while the world’s “carbon budget” looks set to run out within a decade.

Among other findings:

-Based on IRENA’s analysis, energyrelated CO2 emission reductions would have to decline 70% by 2050, compared to current levels, to meet climate goals. A large-scale shift to electricity from renewables could deliver 60% of those reductions; 75% if renewables for heating and transport are factored in; and 90% with ramped-up energy efficiency.

-With electricity becoming the dominant energy carrier, global power supply could more than double, the report finds. Renewable sources, including solar and wind, could meet 86% of power demand.

-The energy transformation would boost gross domestic product (GDP) by 2.5% and total employment by 0.2% globally in 2050. It would also bring broader social and environmental benefits. Health, subsidy and climate-related savings would be worth as much as USD 160 trillion cumulatively over a 30-year period, the report finds. Thus, every dollar spent in transforming the global energy system provides a payoff of at least USD 3 and potentially more than USD 7, depending on how externalities are valued.

-Renewables, meanwhile, would create more new jobs than those lost in fossil-fuel industries. Policy inputs can further improve the socio-economic footprint of the transformation.


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