Doubling Global Renewable Energy Could Save More Than 4 Million Lives, According To IRENA

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Doubling the global share of renewable energy could dramatically decrease worldwide energy pollution, and save up to 4 million lives per year by 2030.

According to a new brief published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), The True Cost of Fossil Fuels: Saving on the Externalities of Air Pollution and Climate Change, the rapid increase of renewable energy by 2030 could not only save 4 million lives per year, but is also capable of saving up to $4.2 trillion per year worldwide in external costs attributed to fossil fuels.

The brief highlights several specific external costs that stem from fossil fuel use, which would be reduced by increasing renewable energy, including pollution and environmental degradation, indoor and outdoor air pollution, and extreme weather events.

With regards to harmful emissions, the report finds that doubling the share of renewable energy by 2030 could reduce harmful emissions from pollutants such as ammonia, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and sulphur dioxide by 82%, 33%, 27% and 12% respectively.

“We are already seeing renewables compete head-to-head with traditional fuel sources and win,” said Dolf Gielen, Director of IRENA’s Innovation & Technology Centre.

“When all the related costs and benefits are considered, renewables become an even more attractive option. In order to understand the true cost of energy, and make policy decisions accordingly, the external costs associated with fossil fuel use must be incorporated into energy prices.”

Unsurprisingly, the biggest health benefits would come in some of the world’s biggest coal countries, such as China, India, Indonesia, and the US, as well as in developing countries, where traditional bio-energy (such as burning coal or wood) is used for heat.

Current policies do not reflect IRENA’s REmap scenario, with demand for fossil fuel expected to grow 40% between 2010 and 2030, which will see a dramatic increase in outdoor and indoor air pollution. With IRENA’s REmap scenario, doubling renewable energy use could conversely see the decline of coal, oil, and natural gas by 36%, 20% and 15% respectively.

“Today, four dollars are spent to subsidize the consumption of fossil fuels for every one dollar spent to subsidize renewable energy,” added Gielen. “With oil, gas and coal prices currently at historic lows, it is now easier than ever for governments to correct this problem. This new brief helps illuminate the real cost of energy, and in doing so, encourage the adoption of enabling policies to boost renewables deployment.”

The brief is an extension of IRENA’s global renewable energy roadmap, REmap, which was released in March.

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Joshua S Hill

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5 thoughts on “Doubling Global Renewable Energy Could Save More Than 4 Million Lives, According To IRENA

  • We can also cut waste by selling refills for pens.

    A lot of pens can be taken apart using bare hands and you will see an ink cartridge inside.

    Here in AUS, they do not sell the refil separately!

    • I’ve always thought that the blatant “everything is disposable” mindset that first-world countries have adopted is ridiculous. In my opinion, it shouldn’t even be legal to call something disposable if it is not biodegradable! “Recyclable” conveys the same ease of discarding, though with a reminder to actually recycle. Modularity of even the smallest goods, such as pens, would certainly be a great step away from wastefulness!

  • The number of lives looks fishy. The OECD/WHO estimate for total annual deaths from outdoor air pollution is 3.5 million. IRENA are projecting 4 million a year saved from cuts in pollutants ranging from 82% to 12%, around half on average. Maybe they are including a very high estimate from indoor air pollution from wood fires and kerosene cookers? Saving all the lives lost can’t be done just with clean electricity generation, it needs the electrification of transport and industry.

    IRENA have things to learn about headlines. 4 million a year by 2030 adds up to 28 million lives over the 14 years, assuming a straight-line impact.

  • It’s amazing to me how many people do not grasp the connection between fossil fuel use and health, especially respiratory, issues! I don’t know any sure statistics, but living in the Southeast U.S.A., it certainly seems like quite a many people here are living unaware, or worse, in disbelief about any environmental issues, from climate change to pollution.

  • It beats me how IRENA can expect only a doubling of renewables by 2030. Maybe they have some kind of insider explanation to offer to as to why the market for wind and solar suddenly will stop growing. And this explanation better also account for how fossils value chains presently in ultra dire straits are supposed to make a comeback when they barely are able to stay alive as it is.

    To answer why they see such a bleak outlook for renewables and splendid future for fossils I would suggest that we look into who their pay master are and yes bingo big surprise they are founded and located in Abu Dhabi.

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