Flat lining of renewables

Two decades of strong expansion in renewable capacity growth worldwide stalled during 2018, a year that saw energy-related CO2 emissions rise by 1.7 per cent to a historic high of 33 Gigatonnes. This demonstrates the world is failing to take the necessary action, according to the International Energy Agency. And right now one million animal and plant species face extinction, many within decades.

Despite a growth of 7 per cent in renewables electricity generation, emissions from the power sector grew to record levels, and the “unexpected” flattening of growth trends that raises concerns about meeting long-term climate goals.

According to IEA analysis, last year was the first time since 2001 that growth in renewable power capacity failed to increase year on year.

New net capacity from solar PV, wind, hydro, bioenergy, and other renewable power sources increased by about 180 GW in 2018, the same as the previous year, and represents only around 60 per cent of the net additions needed each year to meet long-term climate goals.

The consequences are already being widely felt. This week we were reminded that around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report told us that nature’s dangerous decline is unprecedented, species extinction rates are accelerating and current global response is insufficient.

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson at the recent gathering in Paris.

The report listed the extent of climate change, with a 1 degree Celsius average global temperature difference in 2017 compared to pre-industrial levels, rising +/-0.2 (+/-0.1) degrees Celsius per decade; >3 mm annual average global sea level rise over the past two decades and 16-21 cm rise in global average sea level since 1900.

Also, a 100 per cent increase since 1980 in greenhouse gas emissions, raising average global temperature by at least 0.7 degree.

Renewables have a major role to play in curbing global emissions, and the IEA says capacity additions need to grow by over 300 GW on average each year between 2018 and 2030 to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“The world cannot afford to press “pause” on the expansion of renewables and governments need to act quickly to correct this situation and enable a faster flow of new projects,” said IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol.

“Thanks to rapidly declining costs, the competitiveness of renewables is no longer heavily tied to financial incentives. What they mainly need are stable policies supported by a long-term vision but also a focus on integrating renewables into power systems in a cost-effective and optimal way. Stop-and-go policies are particularly harmful to markets and jobs.

“These 2018 data are deeply worrying, but smart and determined policies can get renewable capacity additions back on an upward trend. We are helping all 38 members of the IEA Family, and all other countries around the world, in their energy transitions with targeted policy advice aimed at accelerating investment in a global portfolio of renewable energy technologies, as well as energy efficiency, carbon capture, utilisation and storage, and all other clean-energy technologies,” said Dr Birol.

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