Emission reductions from renewables, coupled with energy-efficiency improvements, must be at the heart of any effort to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees C, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
The agency's ‘REthinking Energy 2015 – Renewable Energy and Climate’ finds that achieving a 36% share of renewable energy by 2030 would result in half of all emission reductions needed to maintain a two-degree pathway; energy-efficiency measures could supply the rest.
"The energy sector accounts for more than two-thirds of global greenhouse-gas emissions and, therefore, must be the focus of climate action," says Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA's director-general. "Transitioning rapidly to a future fueled by renewable energy, accompanied by increasing energy efficiency, is the most effective way to limit global temperature rise. This transition is under way, but it must be accelerated if we are to limit global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius."
According to the report, scaling up renewable energy to the level required to meet global climate objectives would contribute to at least 12 of the 17 United Nations' sustainable development goals by increasing energy access, improving quality of life and reducing poverty.
The agency adds that the renewable energy sector employs 7.7 million people worldwide – creating more jobs per unit of electricity generated than coal or natural gas. If a 36% share of renewables is achieved, employment levels could exceed 24 million jobs by 2030, the report says.
To achieve a 36% share of total energy, the uptake of renewable energy would need to increase six-fold from current levels. This would require that global annual investment nearly double, to exceed $500 billion in the period up to 2020, and more than triple, to exceed $900 billion from 2021 to 2030.
The report outlines five actions for a sustainable energy future, including strengthening policy commitments, mobilizing investments, building institutional capacity, linking renewables to the sustainable development goals and enhancing regional engagement.
"The strong business case for renewable energy has made the energy transition inevitable," adds Amin. "It is now not a question of if the world ultimately transitions to a renewable energy future but, rather, whether it will do so quickly enough. At the upcoming climate talks in Paris, it will be up to countries to commit to strong targets and, in turn, give a strong political signal to catalyze further investments in renewable energy."
"REthinking Energy – Renewable Energy and Climate" is the second edition in the agency's series outlining progress in the transition to a sustainable energy future. The report was presented at IRENA's 10th council meeting, taking place Nov. 22-24 in Abu Dhabi. The Council meets twice annually to bring together roughly 250 participants from more than 80 countries.
The full report can be downloaded here.