Climate Change, Environment

The Revolution of Renewable Energy Needs Political Leadership

By Rachel Kyte*

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 6 2018 (IPS) – The cost of renewable energy is low, and at times, less than fossil fuels. What are the barriers to switching to renewables?
Where current energy systems exist, they will need to be upgraded to be able to draw power from modern renewables and to exploit storage solutions that they require.

The institutions and mindsets of current systems are still comfortable with the systems of the past, those that prioritized fossil fuels in centralized grid systems.
The revolution of renewable energy is not just that it’s clean, but that it can be delivered both through the grid as well as decentralized solutions, allowing it to reach those who have never enjoyed access to reliable and affordable energy before.
Yet this change requires political leadership and policy certainty for the levels of investment needed, and we need that renewable investment now.
Q: The recent Cooling for All report highlighted an issue many people didn’t speak of until recently. How does it relate to climate?
A: As the world warms and populations rapidly grow, particularly in the cities of the developing world, we risk creating ‘heat islands’ that could substantially increase energy demands as people seek cooling access for their own health and safety, as well as the safety of medical supplies, fresh food and safe work environments.
At the same time, if we rely on today’s cooling technologies that use high hydroflourocarbons (HFCs) in air conditioning, we will exasperate climate impacts from a growing use of short-lived climate pollutants.
In policy terms, providing everyone with access to the sustainable cooling they need, is the opportunity at the intersections of the Sustainable Development Goals, Paris Agreement and the Kigali Amendment.
In human terms, finding a way to provide hyper efficient pollutant free cooling for people, their vaccines and food is about making sure we leave no one behind. While the Paris Agreement reached almost universal ratification in record time, we now need member states to move with the same swiftness and determination to ratify the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment.
Q: Can governments, businesses and communities that embrace clean energy solutions survive economically, and where do you see the greatest impact of green energy solutions?
A: The scientific evidence presented in the IPCC report means that all governments, through meeting their fundamental responsibilities in providing a duty of care to their citizens, need to ensure that aggressive and comprehensive policies are in place to speed energy transitions towards clean, affordable and reliable energy for all.
For business, being able to be on the leading edge of this transition means being positioned for profitability, success in attracting and retaining talent, and ensuring that inevitable regulation – and in some cases litigation – is a risk that is understood and well managed.
All businesses must regard carbon as a toxin which needs to be avoided, mitigated and managed to not only support climate action, but help ensure their business is resilient to the ever-growing impacts of climate change.
Q: Can we realistically meet the needs of the just under 1 billion people who don’t have regular access to electricity through renewable energy?
A: Yes. As an immediate step, we all have to be much more efficient in our use of energy. We can provide for many more needs with much less energy through technological innovation and business models. Renewable energy gives us a cost-effective way to meet the needs of those who have never had energy before to help them become economically productive.
By putting the needs of the last mile first, we can build decentralized, digitalized and decarbonized energy systems that meet everyone’s needs. This is not beyond human ingenuity – the cost is estimated at just over US$50 billion a year.
Yet it requires political will and determination. When we consider that US$50 billion leaves the African continent through illegal financial flows, money laundering and tax evasion each year, we must work harder to ensure that the energy needs of these vulnerable populations – women, children, remote rural populations – can be met.
Q: How can we support low-income countries when it comes to innovation and strengthening infrastructure that allow for modern technology approaches?
A: First, we need to support countries put in place robust policy frameworks and investment climates that will spur both domestic investment as well as attract international investment. Secondly, development finance, in partnership with these countries, has to be directed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
Our recent Energizing Finance report clearly shows that finance is still not reaching the top 20 countries with the largest electricity and clean cooking access gaps – dramatically slowing down progress to meet global energy goals and our promise to these populations.
Thirdly, we need specific initiatives that provide energy to the growing number of displaced people around the world.
Finally, the 3 billion that don’t have access to clean cooking deserve an urgent response from the international community at scale that connects industries around different fuel sources with new financial innovation that means the billions of women living on low incomes have a range of clean fuel choices, as opposed to the dangerous choice to cook a family meal while putting their health and the health of their children at risk.
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The interview is part of an editorial package from the SDG Media Compact and released by the UN’s Department of Public Information.
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*Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All, and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All. She was also the World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, leading the Bank Group’s efforts to campaign for the Paris Agreement.

Related:
Looking Beyond Fossil Fuels To Reduce Emissions
By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 6 2018 (IPS) – In midst of the 24th United Nations climate change conference (COP24), many are trying to double down in the search for practical, actionable solutions to the climate crisis: land itself.
Ahead of the ongoing COP24, the U.N. Environmental Programme (UNEP) launched a report warning that the international community’s pledges under the Paris agreement, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are insufficient to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, thus, ambition gap has already lead to the current impacts of climate change that can be seen around the world and will continue to see for decades to come, World Resources Institute’s (WRI) global climate senior associate and one of the lead authors of UNEP’s report Kelly Levin told IPS.
“The ambition of current country commitments is not in line with the spirit of the Paris Agreement. If we continue to do what we are doing right now, we are going to see over 3 degrees Celsius warming,” she said.
“The urgency and need to act has has never been higher,” Levin added.
Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Chief Natural Resource Economist and one of the report’s contributing authors Ruben Lubowski echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “We are nowhere near where we need to be, and we need to do better both in terms of getting the NDCs on track and then ratcheting them up over time to go beyond that.”
UNEP’s annual ‘Emissions Gap Report’ found that governments must triple their efforts as emissions must be reduced by a quarter by 2030 to keep warming no more than 2 degrees Celsius and would have to be halved to read the 1.5 degree Celsius target.
Not only is there a gap, but the report also found that there was a rise in emissions in 2017 unlike recent years.
While much of the attention remains on the need to reduce fossil fuel use, land restoration and reforestation are often neglected as solutions to the crisis.
“I think that there is an underrecognition of how important the land sector in particular is right now…it is one of the most immediately available opportunities and relatively least cost,” Lubowski said.
According to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the land-use sector represents between 25 to 30 percent of total global emissions.
Tropical deforestation alone accounts for 8 percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. If it were a country, it would be the world’s third-biggest emitter.
Though land-use change emissions have remained relatively flat, action targeting the sector is “low-hanging fruit” that can close the emissions gap by up to 30 percent, Lubowski noted.
“Reducing deforestation has already proven to be the most viable large-scale solution. What’s needed I think is to go beyond these just sticks and try to introduce some carrots in terms of some positive incentives…And we haven’t even come close to exhausting that opportunity,” he added.
Moving Around The Money
Fiscal policy reform is among the most effective tools to create incentives for low-carbon investments and reduce GHG emissions.
“Both the traditional fiscal policies as well as creating these carbon markets and emissions trading programs have really a big part to play in land-use, particularly tropical deforestation,” Lubowski told IPS.
He pointed to ecological fiscal transfer as one such policy as it allows local governments to receive tax revenue and resources based on their performance on conservation.
The inclusion of conservation indices as part of decisions around fiscal allocation provides incentives for local municipalities to protect land and forests as well as resources to expand such protections.
Without resources, local governments may be forced to allocate land to agriculture, industry, and construction in order to generate revenue.
Only a few countries have implemented the policy with Brazil being the first to take advantage of the opportunity with its ICMS-E programme.
This has lead to a 165 percent increase in the extent of conservation area between 1992 and 2000—equivalent to an increase of more than one million hectares of protected areas.
For instance, Parana, a southern Brazilian state, devoted five percent of the municipal tax share towards the protection of biodiversity conservation areas and watershed areas and has since expanded its protected areas.
Brazil’s efforts in curbing deforestation as a whole led to the decrease of almost 30 percent of GHG emissions.
However, there are now concerns that the newly elected Jair Bolsonaro will reverse the country’s trends after advocating for the reduction in conservation areas, increase in mining in the Amazon, and even the abolishment of the Ministry of Environment.
Neighbouring Colombia has taken a slightly different approach to that of Brazil by implementing a tax for every ton of CO2 a company is responsible for emitting.
Revenue from the tax are allocated towards land preservation and sustainable development in rural communities.
The fiscal policy also provides an incentive for companies as they can be exempt from paying a carbon tax if they become carbon-neutral or engage in offsetting activities such as environmental projects.
A similar carbon offsetting and reduction approach is also being designed by the aviation industry which is could be responsible for approximately five percent of global GHG emissions by 2050.
The Future is Trees
Since the land sector make up approximately 20-25 percent of NDCs, it is increasingly important to implement policies towards restoration and conservation, Lubowski noted.
However, both Levin and Lubowski noted that this will not be enough to reduce the emissions gap and reverse trends.
“We need action in every sector. We need to step away from fossil fuel energy sources and move towards clean energy sources, we need to stop deforestation and restore our lands, we need to curb emissions from agriculture, we need to address transportation and have zero energy cities,” Levin told IPS.
According to the UNEP report, if all fossil fuel subsidies alone were phased out, it would lead to a 10 percent reduction of emissions by 2030.
“We know what the ingredients are for success, we know how to do this. It’s not going to cost a lot and it will actually bring significant [benefits]… it’s just a question of getting down to it,” Levin added.
“I am definitely worried about where we are, especially if we are thinking about 1.5, the land sector becomes even more important in terms of not only reducing emissions which is essential but also going negative,” Lubowski said.
He urged for more international cooperation in reducing emissions and greater focus on forestry as a way to ramp up ambition in a cost-effective way.
Levin highlighted the need for countries to scale up their commitments by 2020 and COP to step up.
“[COP] will be a really important moment to reaffirm the process for countries…it’s the first test of the spirit of the Paris Agreement and it needs to send a really clear message of enhancing ambition,” she said

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