2023 is a critical year for Earth’s climate. Nations are preparing for the first review and Global Stock-Take of the application of the Paris Agreement which will assess whether their plans and measures are enough to slow down global warming.
Many say it’s still possible to comply with the Agreement, limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5ºC, and mitigate the effects of climate change. But this will only be possible if we immediately embark upon the transformation of the energy system. The last report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) presents the areas where action is needed before 2030 to achieve net emissions by mid this century.
What will I learn from this report?
- The energy transition is the solution to our problems globally
- Roadmap for fulfilling the Paris Agreement before 2030
- Green hydrogen and sustainable transport
- Construction and energy efficiency
The energy transition, solution for fulfilling the Paris Agreement by 2030
The aim world leaders set with the 2015 Paris Agreement of limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5ºC is getting further and further away. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if we maintain the current level of emissions the temperature will increase by 2.7ºC by the end of this century with respect to the average in the pre-industrial era.
Climate change impacts caused by humans become clearer by the day worldwide. The IPCC warns that between 3.3 and 3.6 billion people are already living in places that are highly vulnerable to climate change.
“Between 3.3 and 3.6 billion people are already living in places that are highly vulnerable to climate change”
Recent global events have also highlighted the great dependence we still have on fossil fuels. The war in Ukraine continues to generate concern and uncertainty. 45% of gas imported by the European Union in 2021 came from Russia, according to the International Energy Agency.
The increasingly viable alternative agreed by most experts is to speed up the global energy transition: renewable energy sources contribute energy independence and are safer and more sustainable. Around 80% of the global population lives in countries which need to import energy. With an abundance of renewable potential still untapped, this percentage can be drastically reduced.
“Around 80% of the global population lives in countries which need to import energy”
A profound transition would lead to countries becoming less dependent on energy imports. They would enjoy different sources of supply, which would help their economies suffer less from the large price swings in fossil fuels.
This path, as the report points out, would also create jobs, reduce poverty and promote the cause of an inclusive and climate-safe global economy. But the post-pandemic economic recovery efforts have seen a lost opportunity, since only 6% of the USD 15 trillion in recovery funds in 2020 and 2021 were invested in clean energy.
Energy roadmap to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5ºC
To limit the rise to 1.5°C, IRENA puts electrification and efficiency as the key drivers of energy transition, with a special focus on renewable energies, green hydrogen and sustainable biomass. This path, which requires a massive change in the way societies produce and consume energy, would result in a reduction of almost 37 Gigatonnes of CO2 emissions a year by 2050. How do we achieve this? By:
- Significant increases in the generation and direct use of electricity based on renewable energies
- Substantial improvements in energy efficiency
- Electrification of end-user sectors (e.g. electric vehicles and heat-pump heating systems)
- Using green hydrogen to decarbonize sectors which are difficult to electrify, and
- Employing bioenergy alongside carbon capture and storage.
A definitive commitment to renewable energy to achieve the Paris Agreement by 2030
Solar and wind power technologies have consolidated their place over time and, with the recent increase in fossil fuel prices, IRENA believes that the economic prospects for renewable energies are undeniably good.
The organization also points out that electricity based on renewable energy is now the cheapest option in most regions. The average cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) projects fell by 85% between 2010 and 2020. The corresponding cost reduction for solar thermal (CSP) energy was 68%, for onshore wind power 56% and offshore wind 48 %.
But if we want to achieve the Paris Agreement goals, the share of renewable energies in the electricity generation mix must increase to 65% by 2030. The following are key in order to reach this:
- 8,000 GW additional renewable capacity worldwide needs installing this decade
- Installed onshore wind power capacity must reach 3,000 GW, four times that of 2020
- Offshore wind energy needs to reach 380 GW, 11 times more than in 2020
- Solar photovoltaic energy should reach 5,200 GW, over 7 times that of 2020
- Hydroelectric capacity needs increasing to 1,500 GW, 30% more than in 2020, and
- Other renewable technologies will have to amount to 750 GW, six times more than in 2020.
The role of green hydrogen and sustainable transport
Green hydrogen is likely to become an important energy vector by 2030. In 2021, just 0.5 GW of electrolyzers were installed. It is thought that installed electrolyzer capacity will have to grow to around 350 GW by 2030.
Most car sales should be electric by 2030. This tendency toward electromobility is a clear indicator of the advancing energy transition. In 2021, electric vehicles (EVs) already amounted to 8.3% of global automobile sales. This share will increase rapidly over the next few years. Annual battery manufacturing capacity is forecast to quadruple between 2021 and 2025 to around 2,500 GWh.
Growth in electric vehicles, however, ultimately depends on a massive increase in recharging infrastructure over the next decade. Greater efforts also need to be made to reduce journey demand and promote a change to public transport and cycling where possible.
The role of efficiency in the construction industry in achieving the Paris Agreement before 2030
Transforming the energy system, however, is not just a case of changing energy sources. It extends to ensuring the efficient use of energy in all sectors, including construction. IRENA points out that all new buildings should be energy efficient and renewal rates need to increase significantly.
Decarbonization of heating and cooling systems will require changes in building codes, energy performance standards for electro-domestic equipment, and mandates for heating and refrigeration based on renewable energies, including solar water heaters, heat pumps based on renewable energy and geothermal heating.
The energy transition is also an economic transition
To achieve a scenario where the increase in temperature is limited to 1.5°C requires investments of USD 5.7 trillion a year by 2030, says IRENA. It is hoped that the private sector will provide most of this capital. But public funding will have to double to drive private financing and create a favorable environment for a rapid transition with optimal socio-economic results.
“To achieve a scenario where the increase in temperature is limited to 1.5°C requires investments of USD 5.7 trillion a year by 2030”
This will consist of a change in the system that will also have positive results for national economies. IRENA forecasts that the energy transition will create near to 85 million additional jobs by 2030 with respect to 2019.
26.5 million of these additional jobs will be in renewable energies, 58.3 million in energy efficiency, electricity networks and flexibility, while the hydrogen sector will easily compensate for the loss of 12 million jobs in fossil fuel and nuclear industries.
What is certain is that there is no time to lose. The IRENA report shows the way forward to comply with the Paris Agreement by 2030. There are just a few decisive years ahead to achieve climate change mitigation and drive the sustainable development the planet needs.