Las Vegas, United States [Renewable Energy World Magazine] I am writing this from Las Vegas, where our Renewable Energy World North America event has just taken place. Meanwhile, across the ocean (and much closer to my usual UK home) the world’s leading climate scientists have been gathered in Copenhagen at a conference entitled Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions. Primarily a scientific rather than political gathering, it paves the way for COP 12, which takes place in Copenhagen in December. Though the final outcomes of the conference will not be published in full until June, the preliminary outcomes were handed over to the Danish Prime Minister on the final day – as if to say, ‘we’ve done our bit, now it’s up to you politicians.’
A pattern emerged, as one climate scientist after another presented their observations – given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sealevel rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk, the conference reported, that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.
What is crucial is for carbon emissions to peak as rapidly as possible, then turn the corner and start to decline. That won’t happen without the rapid and continued application of policy measures and technical solutions. And that means investment in clean technology.
In the first week of March, New Energy Finance revealed its latest figures on global investment trends in renewable (and other clean) energy. They showed that investment in renewables, energy efficiency and carbon capture, increased from US$34 billion in 2004 to $150 billion in both 2007 and 2008. This figure is likely to hold steady through the current economic downturn, but to grow again afterwards.
New Energy Finance forward modelling (Global Futures 2009) has various scenarios that show how clean energy investment relates to carbon reduction. The Base scenario shows total investment set to reach $270 billion by 2015 and $350 billion by 2020. But emissions from fossil fuel combustion will continue to rise from 28 Gt of CO2 today to nearly 36 Gt by 2030. So carbon reductions under the Base scenario are simply too little, too late.
Under the Peak scenario, investment in clean technologies would enable carbon emissions to peak before 2020. That would require investment to reach $370 billion by 2015, and $500 billion by 2020 – that’s 44% higher than in the Base scenario and would enable emissions to peak at 308 Gt in 2019, and reduce to 29.1 Gt by 2030.
There’s no shortage of growth scenarios that demonstrate how renewables can deliver high proportions of global energy demand. One presented in Copenhagen last week showed that renewables could deliver 40% of world electricity by 2050, and two features in this issue also convey a large-scale vision for renewables. Policymakers and investors must choose wisely. A great deal depends on it.
P.S. For more on Renewable Energy World North America, see the video coverage on www.RenewableEnergyWorld.com. You’ll also find information there about the upcoming Renewable Energy World Europe and Renewable Energy World Asia events.