Renewable energy is “the only path” to save civilisation from the most catastrophic impacts of global heating but needs a tripling of investment to accelerate build-out of clean power plant around the world – and an immediate end to fossil fuel subsidies currenting costing governments billions of dollars a day – to reach imperative climate action targets, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres has said.
Guterres, speaking today (Wednesday) by video at the launch of World Meteorological Organization’s state of the global climate report, criticised “the dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption” and outlined a five-point call to action to transform the world’s energy systems away from the “dead end” of fossil fuels.
“Renewables are the only path to real energy security, stable power prices and sustainable employment opportunities. If we act together, the renewable energy transformation can be the peace project of the 21st century,” said Guterres.
“The global energy system is broken and bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe. Fossil fuels are a dead end — environmentally and economically. The only sustainable future is a renewable one.
“We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the renewable energy transition, before we incinerate our only home,” said Guterres.
The plan scoped out by the UN chief (see panel below) majors on creation of a “global coalition” on battery storage to fast-track innovation and deployment; “securing scale-up and diversification” of critical components and key raw materials used for renewable energy technologies; streamlining wind and solar power permitting and modernising grids to Paris-aligned targets “that provide certainty to investors, developers, consumers and producers”; shifting subsidies away from fossil fuels; and ratcheting-up private and public investments in renewables to “at least $4trn” a year.
Of the last point, Guterres said: “The management and shareholders of multilateral development banks and development finance institutions must take responsibility and be held accountable. I call on them, including their private arms, to fully align their entire lending portfolios with the Paris Agreement, by 2024 at the latest, and to end all high-emissions high pollution finance.”
Sam Kimmins, director of energy at the Climate Group said: “In a fair market, renewable electricity is the cheapest form of power. Rapid drops in cost mean renewables make business sense as well as environmental sense. However, in many markets around the world, antiquated regulations designed for old, centralised energy systems and fossil fuel subsidies are slowing this market-based transition to cheap, clean renewables.
“Governments must accelerate regulatory reforms, improve access to renewables for businesses and citizens, and allow clean energy to compete on a level playing field with fossil fuel incumbents.”
The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), in a statement, said: “Wind and solar can transform our energy systems right now at a competitive cost. But governments need to act immediately to stack the deck in favour of renewables, not fossil fuels. They must remove bottlenecks where projects are held up by unnecessary bureaucracy, permits and a lack of grid connections.”
GWEC highlighted that the 100GW of new projects installed in 2021 needed to be “four times this amount every year” to align to transitions targets set out in the Paris climate agreement.
“Meanwhile, the wind energy supply chain continues to suffer from losses, leading companies to shrink their footprints at the very time we need to be scaling up investment for rapid growth. Governments around the world pour around half a trillion dollars into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels every year, and while consumers suffer from high energy prices, fossil fuel companies are raking in billions from a distorted market.”
The WMO report revealed that four key climate change ‘indicators’ – greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification – all set new records last year, in what it was was “yet another clear sign that human activities are causing planetary scale changes on land, in the ocean, and in the atmosphere, with harmful and long-lasting ramifications for sustainable development and ecosystems”.
Extreme weather events – what the report authors called “the day-to-day ‘face’ of climate change – are on the increase, according to WMO data, causing “hundreds of billions of in economic losses and wreaking a heavy toll on human lives”.
“Extreme weather has the most immediate impact on our daily lives. Years of investment in disaster preparedness means that we are better at saving lives, though economic losses are soaring,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.
The report – which will be used as the official guidance for the UN Climate Change negotiations at the COP27 conference taking place in Egypt later this year – confirmed 2014-21 to have been the “warmest seven years on record”, with average global temperature last year of 1.11°C above the pre-industrial level. The 2015 Paris Agreement set the aim of keeping the rise to 1.5°C.
Davos 'a key opportunity'
Next week’s World Economic Forum (WEF), which annually brings together some 2,000 world leaders and experts in Davos, Switzerland, to discussion the global econony, is being seen as critical to advancing public-private action on 2030 and 2050 climate goals.
“The state of the global climate report emphasises the need for speed, scale and systemic action to mitigate the environmental risks presented in the WEF’s global risks report,” said WEF managing board member Gim Huay Neo.
“The upcoming meeting in Davos is a key opportunity to strengthen our resolve for climate action, translate ambition to deeds and forge more partnerships to co-create a future we can be proud of.
“As shown by the recent IPCC report, we already have the means and the know-how to cut emissions and limit global warming. We need to focus our efforts on bold policies and solutions that can quickly transform the way we produce and consume resources.
“People and partnerships have to be at the heart of our approach, whether it is to create new jobs, provide more access and affordability for everyone and to build a cleaner and greener living environment.”
United Nation’s secretary-general António Gueterres, speaking at the launch of the World Meteorological Organization’s state of the global climate report, outlined a five-point plan to accelerate the energy transition and slow global heating. Here is what he said:
“First, renewable energy technologies, such as battery storage, must be treated as essential and freely-available global public goods. Removing obstacles to knowledge sharing and technological transfer – including intellectual property constraints -- is crucial for a rapid and fair renewable energy transition. Storing renewable electricity is often cited as the greatest barrier to the clean energy transition.
I am therefore calling for a global coalition on battery storage to fast-track innovation and deployment – a coalition led and driven by governments, bringing together tech companies, manufacturers, and financiers.
Second, we must secure, scale up and diversify the supply of critical components and raw materials for renewable energy technologies. Today’s supply chains for renewable energy technology and raw materials are concentrated in a handful of countries. The renewable age cannot flourish until we bridge this vast chasm.This will take concerted international coordination. Governments must invest in skills training, research and innovation, and incentives to build supply chains.
Third, governments must build frameworks and reform bureaucracies to level the playing field for renewables. In many countries, these systems still favour deadly fossil fuels. We must prevent bottlenecks, where gigawatts of renewable projects are held up by red tape, permits and grid connections.
I call on governments to fast-track and streamline approvals of solar and wind projects, modernize grids and set ambitious 1.5-degree-aligned renewable energy targets that provide certainty to investors, developers, consumers and producers. Renewable energy policies are fundamental to reduce market risk and drive investment into the sector.
Fourth, governments must shift subsidies away from fossil fuels to protect the poor and most vulnerable people and communities. Every minute of every day, coal, oil and gas receive roughly $11m dollars in subsidies. Each year, governments around the world pour around half a trillion dollars into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels — more than triple what renewables receive. While people suffer from high prices at the pump, the oil & gas industry is raking in billions from a distorted market. This scandal must stop.
Fifth, private and public investments in renewable energy must triple to at least $4trn a year. For solar and wind power, upfront payments account for 80% of lifetime costs. That means big investments now will reap big rewards for years to come. But some developing countries pay seven times more in financing costs than developed countries. We need blended finance that provides the necessary structures to close existing funding gaps and unlock the trillions held by private actors. This means adjusted risk frameworks and more flexibility to scale up renewable finance. The management and shareholders of multilateral development banks and development finance institutions must take responsibility and be held accountable.
I call on them, including their private arms, to fully align their entire lending portfolios with the Paris Agreement, by 2024 at the latest, and to end all high-emissions high pollution finance. This includes using their balance sheets creatively to accelerate the renewable energy transition. And it means setting targets to substantially finance renewable energy infrastructure, including through technical and policy assistance.
Commercial banks and all elements of the global financial system need to dramatically scale up investments in renewables as they phase out fossil fuels.