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Renewables growth slowed by fossil-fuel subsidies: REN21

Lack of national policies on decarbonising heating, cooling and transport is holding back global renewables sector, says new report

Renewable energy should be displacing fossil fuels in the global heating and transport sectors, but the industry is being held back by erratic policy making and huge amounts of fossil-fuel subsidies, according to global sustainable-energy network REN21.

In its Renewables 2019 Global Status Report, released today, REN21 points out that while 112 countries are subsidising fossil-fuel consumption to the tune of $300bn, less than 50 nations have set targets for the decarbonisation of the heating, cooling and transport sectors.

“The policy effort focused on [the heating, cooling and transport] sectors has been insufficient compared to the power sector,” said REN21 chairman Arthouros Zervos. “Data in this year’s report clearly illustrate that ambitious policy and regulatory frameworks are needed to create favourable and competitive conditions, allowing renewable energy to grow and displace more expensive and carbon-emitting fuels.”

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REN21 executive secretary Rana Adib adds: “A key breakthrough [in the energy transition] could occur if countries cut their fossil-fuel subsidies, which are propping up dirty energy.”

The report points out that renewables (including biofuels and biomass) supply more than 26% of global electricity, but only 10% of the energy used for heating and cooling, and just over 3% for transport. Only 0.3% of the world’s transport is powered by renewable electricity.

“With the countries needing to come back [to UN climate talks] with more ambitious climate targets in 2020, this report shows there are an array of opportunities to scale up action and improve people’s lives by extending the benefits of the energy transition throughout the economy,” said Zervos.

The report is far more bullish about the power sector, pointing out that 181GW of renewables was added globally in 2018 — more than fossil-fuel and nuclear combined for the fourth consecutive year —, increasing total installations to “around 2,378GW”, while “the number of countries integrating high shares of variable renewable energy keeps rising”.

More than 90 countries now have more than 1GW of renewables installed, while at least 30 have more than 10GW, the report says.

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