Trillion-dollar shifts in investments are needed to scale up the use of renewable energy sources if runaway climate change is to be prevented, a UN report has warned.
Published today after a week of deliberations in Berlin, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) new report attempts to explain how global warming can be limited to 2C from pre-industrial levels – the point above which scientists fear a number of climate “tipping points” will be crossed.
Without mitigation, scientists estimate that global temperatures may increase by as much as 3.7C to 4.8C by 2100.
The report warns that nations must drastically cut their greenhouse gas emissions, concluding that spending on renewables must more than triple by 2050, increasing by $147 billion (£88 billion) each year.
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Meanwhile, investments in fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, would have to drop by $30 billion (£18 billion) a year, as renewable energy’s share of global production will have to rise from 17% in 2010 to around 50% in 2050.
The report says that the benefits of clean energy, such as reducing air pollution and providing secure energy supplies, “outweigh the adverse side effects”.
“Since , many renewable energy technologies have substantially advanced in terms of performance and cost and a growing number have achieved technical and economic maturity, making renewable energy a fast growing category in energy supply,” it adds.
The report concludes that the rising trajectory of global emissions is currently driven by rising coal use and increasing demand. However, it predicts that the value of fossil fuel reserves, including coal, will be cut as efforts to curb climate change are stepped up.
It also warns that the use of gas obtained through fracking is only a short-term option, and will only cut emissions if it replaces coal.
While the UK government has welcomed shale gas firms with tax breaks, the IPPC warns against committing to expensive, high-carbon infrastructure.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF’s Global Climate & Energy Initiative, said, “The longer we delay on tackling climate change, the harder the challenge becomes.
“The IPCC report makes clear that acting on emissions now is affordable, but delaying further increases the costs. The energy sector is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and, therefore, is the key battleground of change.”
While the need for decarbonisation has never been so clear, according to a separate report published this week, renewable energy investment fell in 2013 due to falling costs and policy uncertainty.
“This is no longer a theoretical discussion”, added Mark Kenber, CEO of the Climate Group, who claims that 70-80% of the technology required for this transition was already available.
“What is now beyond doubt is that the cleantech sector is an attractive proposition for any investor: the global market is now worth more than $2.56 trillion a year, and is expected to be valued at more than $5.13 trillion by the mid-2020s,” he said.
Photo: Emilian Robert Vicol via flickr