Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, says the substitution of old technology with new is like waiting for a sneeze. “The first 1% takes forever; 1% to 5% is like waiting for a sneeze — you know it’s inevitable but it takes longer than you think; then 5% to 50% happens incredibly fast. Clean energy is entering this period of rapid transformation.”
He tells The Guardian that this period of rapid transformation promises to upend fossil fuel producers which fail to adapt and bring the rise of carbon emissions to an end. “Over the next decade we’ll see a far quicker than expected rollout of a number of clean energy technologies which will almost certainly mean global emissions plateau,” Liebreich adds.
This will happen whether or not political leaders act aggressively to curb carbon emissions. The economics of clean energy are now too strong to ignore. BNEF reported recently that renewable energy today is not only cheaper than building a new gas or coal plant, it will also soon be cheaper to shut existing coal-fired power plants and build new renewable energy projects from scratch. Abundant clean electricity could help remove the emissions from the world’s transport and heating systems too.
“It provides a lot of hope,” says Seb Henbest, the lead author of the BNEF report. “It provides a counterbalance to the doom and gloom we face, partly because it includes up-to-date data which tells a slightly different story. We’re a lot further on than we were. And yes, we need to go faster. And yes, it’s difficult and complicated. But at the same time we now live in a world where two-thirds of the global population live in a country where wind and solar power is the cheapest form of new electricity capacity. We have the tools to do this,” he says.
The progress to date is not enough to meet global targets set in the Paris climate agreement, but a plateau in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 could play a major role in averting catastrophic global heating above 3º C. It also proves that further efforts could bring the world closer to the sub-2º C goal. “This change is a testament to new climate policies, and the work that has been done around the world. We need to do more of that,” Henbest adds.
People like to slam climate activists like Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and groups like 350.org and Extinction Rebellion for being too aggressive in their tactics, but there is little doubt they have all helped pave the way toward a new global consensus on carbon emissions and renewable energy. Now is not the time to take our foot off the pedal but rather to redouble our efforts to preserve the Earth that sustains us all.