If solar energy deployment doesn’t increase 12 times over by the year 2030, the world is headed towards a “climate catastrophe,” according to a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Not exactly a new warning, but certainly worth heeding and being aware of. That said, the report — REmap 2013 — isn’t “doomsy.” It lays out a clear path to the goal of a 36% share of renewables in the energy mix by 2030.
The purpose of the achievement of the 36% share is to limit the atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to less than 450ppm (it’s debatable whether the achievement of that goal would limit emissions to that degree, and whether or not that would be enough to avoid world-shaking catastrophe), and thus limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (again, quite debatable).
That said, whether or not those goals are adequate isn’t really the issue — it may be that the goals need to be more ambitious, but the achievement of even these, possibly inadequate, goals will require substantial political action and change, something that isn’t at all certain. That is most definitely the most important takeaway of the report — significant increases are necessary to avoid very high levels of warming, and they are possible, but require more commitment than has been shown up until now.
Via the pathway provided by the IRENA model, wind energy will need to increase even more than solar — by a factor of 15 by the year 2030. Geothermal, hydro, and biomass will all need to increase significantly as well — by a factor of 9, 2, and 1.5, respectively. The IRENA model doesn’t factor in potentially significant growth in tidal energy generation.
While this may all sound like it would be very expensive, it’s worth remembering that the savings are significant as well — especially the savings on health and environmental costs.
Transitioning towards renewable energy is possible at negligible additional cost. The economic case for the renewable energy transition is even stronger when we include socio-economic benefits — with these factors are taken into account, switching to renewable energy results in savings of up to $740 billion per year by 2030.
Out of that number, roughly $200 billion is in reference to health costs — thanks to a reduction in the numerous health problems caused by fossil fuel use.
While it may seem a bit repetitious to keep reading report after report like this, the reality is that the actions that are necessary to avert big changes in the climate simply aren’t happening. But perhaps such reports and warnings are helping to spread awareness and possibly influence policies/behaviors?
On that note, while discussions of “catastrophic climate change” typically make note of the great physical changes likely to occur to the world over the coming decades and centuries, they don’t often factor in the great changes in human interaction and social structure/cohesion that have always accompanied changes in the climate throughout history.
And with the climatic changes this time expected to be quite rapid, and the human population swelled far beyond any previous levels, these social changes are likely to be quite significant this time, as many of the world’s leading military think tanks and organizations have warned. Such changes in the climate in the past have resulted in large-scale migration, war, social breakdown, famine, pandemic, and agricultural failure — why would it be any different this time?
That should be motivation enough to make the transition to renewable energy, shouldn’t it?