A world based on 100% renewable energy is possible, and we are able to transform the energy system fast enough to avoid a climate catastrophe. A group of leading scientists from around the world unveiled a joint declaration claiming that leaving behind fossil fuels is not only necessary but also extremely achievable in less time than previously expected.
The climate emergency requires countries to transform their economies into zero-emissions as soon as possible. The Paris Agreement sets this goal for 2050, but the scientists behind the declaration argue it’s just too late. They called for the electric sector to be zero-emissions by 2030 and for the others to do the same no later than 2035.
The solution to meeting this deadline is to electrify or provide direct heat for all energy and provide the electricity and heat globally with 100% renewable energy, according to the signatories. Sufficient political, international coordination, and concrete action could allow to completely re-design the global energy system towards renewable energy.
“We have lost too much time in our efforts to address global warming and the seven million air pollution deaths that occur each year, by not focusing enough on useful solutions,” Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and one of the signatories, said in a statement. “Fortunately, low-cost 100% clean, renewable energy solutions do exist to solve these problems.”
To date, 11 countries have reached or exceeded 100% renewable electricity, 12 have passed laws to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and 49 have passed laws to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2050. Meanwhile, over 300 cities have also set goals to have 100% renewables by no later than 2050, and over 280 international businesses committed to having their operations based on clean energy.
However, policies to reach 100% renewables across all energy sectors are few in number, and by 2035 are non-existent, according to the signatories of the declaration. Major bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have only demanded to achieve 70% by 2050. The European Union as a whole has only a 32% renewable energy target in total energy by 2030, which many see as far too unambitious.
The latest report by REN21, an international network focused on renewables, showed that the share of renewables in total final energy demand has barely increased, going from 9.6% in 2013 to 11% in 2018. Today’s progress is largely the result of policies and regulations initiated years ago and focus on the power sector, according to the report.
“A global energy system powered by 100% clean renewable energy is not just possible over the next 10-15 years, it can also save money, create jobs and wealth, save lives, and get humanity ahead of the curve to prevent runaway climate change. It is economically, socially, geopolitically and environmentally irrational for us to kick the can down the road to 2050,” Tony Seba, clean energy expert at Stanford University and one of the signatories, said in a statement.
The declaration, characterized by the researchers as a concise summary of decades of findings on energy, included a list of reasons that explain why and how the world can be fully based on renewable energy sooner than expected. Here’s the list:
- Numerous studies have investigated 100% renewable energy (RE) systems in regions, countries, and worldwide, and they have found that it works, not only for providing electricity, but also for providing all energy.
- A transformation to 100% RE can occur faster than current expectations: the power sector can transform by 2030 and the other sectors soon thereafter. With political will, a transformation of the global energy sector by 2030-35 appears to be possible!
- Electricity in a 100% RE system will cost less than in our current energy system; the total energy cost of a 100% RE system will be lower than the cost of conventional energy, even if we exclude social costs.
- The total social cost (energy, environmental, climate, and health cost) of a 100% RE system will be drastically lower than of business as usual. The sooner we achieve a 100% RE system, the faster these savings will be realized!
- A 100% RE system can supply regions, countries, and the world reliably (24-7) with energy at low cost.
- A massive re-design of the global energy system will be needed, including increasing energy efficiency on all levels.
- Solar and wind will be the key pillars of energy supply, plus flexibility in many forms, especially storage, sector coupling, demand response management, large- and small-scale grid integration.
- The studies agree that electricity will take a massively increasing share (about 80-95%) of the global energy supply. Electrification will result in a superabundance of cheap clean, renewable energy, increasing prosperity for all humanity.
- All our studies show that creating the new 100% RE system will benefit the world economy. It will stimulate investments of trillions of dollars and create millions more jobs than lost worldwide. Superabundant clean, renewable energy will create wealth and provide a boost for every sector of the global economy.
- Such a rapid transformation is necessary to stop the 7 million human deaths that occur annually today worldwide from air pollution, to slow the growing damage due to global warming and thus avoid the climate catastrophe, and to provide sustainable energy security for future generations.