When Recharge launched in 2009, the term “energy transition” wasn’t in common parlance and when it was used it went by many overlapping definitions. Thoughts on the accompanying industrial transformation that is now emerging only appeared in executives’ long-range forecasts, even as renewables began to generate “mainstream” levels of power production worldwide. The “just transition”, as it was coined, was an optimistic, egalitarian foregone conclusion.
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Revealingly, on the eve of COP27, as the press releases circulated from government and industry agencies restating that the world is not moving at anything like the pace necessary to avert catastrophic global heating by shifting from a fossil-based energy system to one run on renewables, it is the ‘just transition’ that threatened to derail discussions in Sharm El-Sheikh.
The impasse, when Recharge went to press, was around how significant ‘loss and damage’ – remuneration for economic and wider societal costs of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, drought and wildfires and climate change-driven sea-level rises – would be in shaping final agreements from the two-week summit.
This despite the fact that the cataclysmic impacts increasingly suffered by developing nations — most vulnerable to climate change though almost entirely innocent of contributing to its causes – lie in wait for the rest of civilisation in the decades to come.
Few in global politics or the energy industry could hand-on-heart deny renewables – “the backbone of the energy transition and a viable climate solution”, as the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) succinctly phrased it in its communiqué – is the best means of saving us from ourselves by slowing global heating. But, as Irena underscored, of the 183 Paris Agreement signatory nations, a mere12 had committed to a hard percentage of renewables in their overall energy mixes.
A year after the Glasgow climate pact, countries are planning for only half of the 10.8TW needed to meet net-zero scenarios
A year after the Glasgow climate pact to raise 2030 target pledges, Irena calculations ahead of COP27 – where representatives from 196 nations, 45,000 people and 120 world leaders are expected to gather – show countries are together planning for 5.4TW of renewable power plant capacity by 2030, exactly half of the 10.8TW needed to meet the agency’s net-zero scenario of keeping global temperatures to within 1.5°C of preindustrial levels.
To reach progressive end-of-decade targets, countries would need to wire in 2.3TW of renewable plant, which translates to 259GW annually in the next nine years – actually below the additions for 2020 and 2021 – when 261GW was commissioned in each of the two 12-month periods.
The means of creating a just transition lies in the reality that clean power production so far targeted by 2030 remains concentrated in Asia – half of all new renewable capacity – followed by Europe and North America, but the Middle East and North Africa account for a minuscule 3% of global deployment targets and Sub-Saharan Africa 2%, despite their wind- and sun-rich resources.
There is no diminishing UN secretary general António Guterres’ intonement that a deepening gulf between the developed and developing world must be bridged to get us off the “road to climate hell”.
Negotiations on inclusion of “loss and damage” – climate justice, in other words – in discussions over the coming fortnight at COP ran into the early hours of the lead-off day, stalled, then got across the line before the first conference sessions began. A hope, if slender, glimmers on.