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.