UN highlights future of clean energy
Paris - Renewable power from the sun, wind, water and biomass can and should
generate a major portion of the planet's energy supply by 2050, according to a
draft United Nations report obtained by AFP.
Renewables have the potential to bring power to the world's poorest regions,
boost energy security for nations dependent on imports, and curb the CO2
emissions that fuel global warming, the draft said.
The 30-page "summary for policy makers" - boiled down from 1 500
pages - is being vetted at a May 5-13 meeting of the 194-nation
Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in Abu Dhabi, and will be
unveiled on Monday.
"The final version is likely to be substantially different in wording
and perhaps somewhat in emphasis, but not a great deal in substance," said
an industry representative participating in talks.
By far the most comprehensive UN assessment of the status and potential for
the clean energy sector, the report weighs 164 separate development scenarios.
Six types of renewables accounted in 2008 for 12.9% of global energy supply:
biomass (10.2%), hydropower (2.3%), wind (0.2%), solar (0.1%), geothermal (0.1%)
and ocean (0.002%).
Once traditional use of firewood and animal dung for cooking and heating is
set aside, however, that percentage drops to about seven.
Coal, oil and gas together make up 85%, and nuclear energy two percent.
Boosted by some government policies, declining technology costs and rising
fossil fuel prices, "deployment of renewable energy has been increasing
rapidly in recent years", the draft summary said.
The sector contributed, for example, nearly half of the 300 gigawatts of new
electricity generating capacity added worldwide in 2008 and 2009, with more
than 50% installed in developing countries. Coal accounted for most of the
The report says there is virtually unlimited technical potential for
renewables, with much of it coming from solar energy.
Drafted before the Fukushima plant meltdown in Japan undercut the so-called
nuclear renaissance, the summary said renewables will likely make a higher
contribution to low-carbon energy supply by mid-century than nuclear energy and
carbon capture and storage (CCS) combined.
Overall, a majority of projections reviewed show a "substantial
increase" - ranging from 3-to-20 fold - "in the deployment of
renewable energy by 2030, 2050 and beyond."
Many scenarios showed renewables reaching 200 to 400 exajoules (EJ) a year
by mid-century in a world where total primary energy supply is forecast to be
about 1 000 EJ, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
An exajoule is a unit of measure for energy.
Clean energy's share of future supply varies hugely across different
forecasts, with the most ambitious envisioning a world in which it covers
three-quarters of all energy needs.
But the continuing growth of renewables is not inexorable and faces many
barriers, ranging from vested political interests to inadequate incentive
structures for developing new technology, and fossil fuel subsidies.
"To achieve international climate mitigation targets that incorporate
high shares of renewable energy, a structural shift in today's energy systems
will be required over the next few decades," the report said.
It will also take a lot of money - 1.4 to 5.1 trillion dollars for the
coming decade, and another 1.5 to 7.2 trillion dollars for the period
Clean sources of power must play a critical role if the UN-backed goal of
preventing average global temperatures from rising more than 2.0 degrees
Celsius is to be met, the IPCC said.
Currently, use of fossil fuels in the energy system accounts for some 60% of
all greenhouse gases.
UN climate talks have remained largely stalemated since the near collapse of
the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, even as scientists warn that climate
change is accelerating.
"Renewable energy can help decouple development and rising emissions,
contributing to sustainable development," the draft summary said.
Global cumulative CO2 "savings" between 2010 and 2050 will total
220 to 560 gigatonnes (Gt) off a projected accumulation from fossil fuel
sources of 1,530 Gt over the same period, according to various scenarios.
The IPCC meeting has set aside four days to review every line of text in the