Majority of World’s Energy Needs Could Be Met By Renewables

The majority of the world’s energy could be powered from renewable sources by mid-century if governments provide the necessary political and financial support, according to a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The IPCC released their Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) on May 9th, providing a comprehensive reference on clean and renewable energy options and related political and social considerations. The panel confirmed the undeniable potential of a renewable energy-based future, but only if policy-makers take certain considerable political steps.

The clean energy revolution proposed could only occur along with a revolution across society, technology, and legislation, the experts suggest.

Renewable energy such as wind and sun is so limitless, the IPCC reports, that it could provide 77 percent of the world’s energy needs by mid-century. Currently, renewable sources like bioenergy, solar, wind, and geothermal power supply only 13 percent of global energy demands.

But to achieve such a transition would necessitate as much as $5.1 trillion invested before 2020, and another $7.2 trillion between 2021 and 2030.

It’s up to policy-makers to decide whether pursuing the great transition is worth it. At stake, according to the panel, are human health and a warming planet. In a world of renewable energy infrastructure, the population would benefit from improved health and well-being, and the globe itself would benefit from decreased greenhouse gases.

It’s a relief to realize that the potential for clean energy options are out there, but the real battle is the logistics of changing existing energy policies.

Ramón Pichs Madruga, a member of the I.P.C.C., explains, “it is not the availability of the resource, but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,” as quoted by The New York Times.

The clean energy revolution would also pose a logistical challenge, as scientists would need to come up with a diversity of geographic sources for clean energy. They would also need to establish reliable technological systems to obtain the energy in efficient ways. Political difficulties would be significant. As Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC admits, a “substantial increase of renewables is technically and politically very challenging.”

But considering such policy changes is essential if we are to move into a greener future we utilize our environment sustainably. That is why the panel is urging policy-makers to review its information and consider the options and pathways seriously.

Edenhofer explained that the report is meant to provide a guide, rather than a mandate for governments. It will “provide policy-relevant information to the policy-makers without being policy-prescriptive,” he said. The report would reveal the “options they have- technologically, politically, and also socially.”

Over 120 experts examined existing science and policy information to produce the comprehensive 1,000-page publication. Within the document they examined 160 renewable energy scenarios.

Next they came up with an outline of the report entitled Summary for Policy makers. It will serve as a go-to guide for energy companies, international leaders, activists, and other government policy-makers and will shape the future of renewable energy policy and investment.

The IPCC first took center stage in the environmental world back in 2007, after reporting that human activity was partially responsible for warming the planet. It blamed habits such as burning fossil fuels and forest clearing for greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The panel then shared the Nobel Peace prize with Al Gore for its work.

The panel was rarely noticed prior to a few years ago. Now that it has come into the public eye, it has received varying feedback, from acclaim to criticism. Critics claimed its scientific work on climate change was slanted and sloppy, and was performed in favor of left-wing environmental policies. The scientists on the panel responded that such criticisms were unfounded and irrelevant. 

Nonetheless, the panel has received pressure to maintain a higher level of scientific standards. Its charter does not allow it to recommend how to cut climate risks, but it can lay out ideas for cutting emissions that governments may follow.

Currently the IPCC is working on its fifth assessment of climate trends, expectations, and policy considerations, to be released in 2014.

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