UN Urges The World To Double Investment Into Green Energy

United Nations

The Paris climate talks in December have been hailed by most as a great breakthrough in reaching global agreement on reducing our reliance on energy produced from fossil fuels. The talks agreed to bring nations together to find ways of holding global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Whilst this is undoubtedly good news now comes the hard part – to find ways of producing our energy needs from renewable and green sources to match the goal of the agreement.

The agreement on 2 degrees was reached by 196 governments but it also set an aspiration agreement of 1.5 degrees and to produce a net-zero carbon economy in the second half of the century.

However, it is widely recognised that even if all the governments involved in the Paris agreements met their pledges then this would not be enough to hit the agreement’s goal, only achieving a slow-down of global warming to 2.7 degrees.

In the light of this recognition the UN has upped the ante in the issue and called for global business leaders to double their investment into solar and wind energy to £400bn by the year 2020 in order to augment and support investment from governments.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that there needs to be a drastic rethink of our reliance on fossil fuel-based energy production otherwise the agreement reached in Paris would quickly become meaningless. At a recent meeting of UN investors he said that

“I call on the investor community to build on the strong momentum from Paris and seize the opportunities for clean energy growth. I challenge investors to double – at a minimum – their clean energy investments by 2020.” To achieve this, he continues, would require investors to make the shift from “aspiration to action”.

Rachel Kyte, the UN special envoy for sustainable energy, backed Ki-moon by stating that “We had this extraordinary agreement in Paris, we have got points on the horizon. Now we have got to get down to the nitty gritty of long term development of the low carbon economy and that is a lot less sexy in some respects than things negotiated last year.”

It is estimated by the International Energy Agency that the cost of switching from high-polluting power plants to solar and wind electricity generation in order to meet the commitments made at the Paris agreement will cost approximately $16tr by 2030. However, it is argued by some, that this figure is based on the current costs of solar and wind generation infrastructure. These costs have been coming down rapidly for some time as a result of research and investment and look to continue to do so for the foreseeable future if investment is increased further. If this happens then the $16tr figure could well be an overestimation.

Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres, a non-profit organisation advocating for sustainability leadership, said that

“ultimately, global investment portfolios need to shift far more capital to low-carbon business activity and away from risky high-carbon sectors that may perform poorly in the years ahead.”

What is the Future of Renewables in the UK?

Houses Of Parlament

In the end the Government only slashed the Feed in Tariff for solar by 65% rather than the touted 87, something that is still going to cost the industry thousands of jobs and is seen as a backward step for those who believe passionately in the green agenda.

Despite the rest of the world getting enthusiastic about lowering carbon emissions and becoming less dependent on fossil fuels after the Climate Change Summit in Paris, many UK observers are sceptical about the future here.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, growth could see the sector thrive worldwide as a 24 million jobs are created by 2030. The change to a more active carbon free energy sector would not only help stop climate change but improve world economies across the board.

Particularly in Asia, this confidence has been boosted largely by the growth of the solar industry. It seems everyone but Britain is pushing forward with the race for a cleaner world. Here, the Government has put the brakes on wind and solar and are investing heavily in nuclear while also trying to get fracking off the ground despite the general population being against it.

According to the CEO of Regen SW, Merlin Hyman:

“The Paris agreements have fired the starting gun on the global race to clean energy and made the shift to a radically different decentralised energy system unstoppable. The UK clean energy sector is determined to play a leading role despite the UK Government’s attempts to prop up fossil fuel and nuclear power.”

There are some minor skirmishes going on in the renewable energy sector at the moment which are not necessarily making front page news. Two solar panel companies are taking the Government to court over their retrospective cut to subsidies for large scale developments two years ago. There are further clashes anticipated between energy secretary Amber Rudd and the Lords as she seeks to bring about the end for subsidies for onshore wind farms.

The truth is that many observers believe that the renewables industry is under fire in the UK and some areas will be hard pressed to survive Government back tracking.

The only good news is that the cost of installing solar is still coming down. When the first panels were installed in the late 1950s the cost was around £1,300 per watt in today’s money. That’s dropped to just 50 pence per watt on average in the UK in 2016. According to Oxford University researchers:

“Since the 1980s, panels to generate electricity from sunshine have got 10% cheaper each year. That is likely to continue, the study said, putting solar on course to meet 20% of global energy needs by 2027.”

The cry from the solar industry is not that they don’t want to exist without subsidies (as fossil fuels globally have failed to do) but that they don’t want the economic rug pulled from under their feet too quickly. There are still some major issues for solar to navigate over the coming years, not least the best way to store an energy supply that is more available at certain times of the day than others.

Research is continuing robustly, even with the current decline of governmental enthusiasm for all things green. Prospects of solar paints that can be used to cover buildings with thin, cheap coats of electricity producing material could be a major advance that comes in the next few years. Better storage and integration with other renewable technologies such as wind and hydro are on the cards also.

While a Western country like the UK is procrastinating, though, developing countries such as Costa Rica, Afghanistan and India are all working hard towards a future with full power from renewables. Costa Rica, strangely, is leading the way, professing to have provided 100% of their energy needs from renewable sources for a succession of 94 days.

The trouble is that the Government’s confused energy policy has had damaging knock on effects beyond solar and wind. Tidal constructions such as the lagoon in Swansea Bay are being put on hold as investors wonder where the Government are going to cut next. This wide ranging uncertainty is causing those with the money to help change our world to think twice. Unfortunately, the damage has been done and the length of time that it will take for confidence to be restored could set the UK a long way back in the development of renewables compared to the rest of the world.