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New Renewables report shows climate policy promises are empty

REN 21’s latest Renewables report shows despite a historic decline of 4% in primary energy demand as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world’s economies, polluting G20 countries barely met and still missed their unambitious renewable energy targets.

Even though the benefits of renewable energy in terms of health, climate and job creation are indisputable, REN21’s Renewables 2021 Global Status Report shows the world is nowhere near the necessary mindshift towards a clean, healthier and more equitable energy future.

“We are waking up to the bitter reality that the climate policy promises over the past ten years have mostly been empty words.

Rana Adib, REN21 executive director

The share of fossil fuels in the world’s total energy mix is as high as a decade ago (80.3% then vs. 80.2% today) while the share of renewable energy has increased slightly from 8.7% to 11.2% in 2019. Even with the historic decline in energy consumption last year, the five G20 countries with 2020 renewable energy targets struggled toward their goals. The other 15 did not even set a goal.

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Rana Adib, REN21 executive director: “We are waking up to the bitter reality that the climate policy promises over the past ten years have mostly been empty words. The share of fossil fuels in final energy consumption has not moved by an inch. Phasing them out and making renewables the new norm are the strongest actions we can take.”

Fossil fuels are responsible for not only climate change but also heavily contribute to biodiversity loss and pollution. Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy is a necessary step to take and making renewables the norm is not a question of technology or costs.

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Today, almost all new power capacity is renewable. More than 256GW were added globally in 2020, surpassing the previous record by nearly 30%. That represented 83% of net power capacity additions for the year. In more and more regions, including parts of China, the EU, India and the United States, it is now cheaper to build new wind or solar PV plants than to operate existing coal-fired power plants.

Sam Kimmins, head of global corporate renewable energy initiative RE100 says the renewable energy transition is gaining pace because it makes business, as well as environmental, sense: “Renewable electricity is already creating millions of jobs, saving businesses money and providing energy access to millions. But businesses and governments need to go faster, not only for the environment, but to remain competitive in a renewably powered 21st century economy.”

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The report notes there was a wave of stronger commitments to action on the climate crisis during 2020. This included net zero carbon emissions targets by China, Japan and South Korea. Together with announcements of funding for a green economic recovery, this took public spending to levels higher than the Marshall Plan after World War II.

While this should have made 2020 the year when the world pushed the reset button on the global climate economy and renewables, it turned out to be the opposite. Instead of driving transformation, economic recovery packages provided six times more investment to fossil fuel projects than renewable energy.

What is stopping world from using COVID-19 crises as an opportunity for transformation?

Dr Stephen Singer, senior advisor at CAN International says the harsh lesson from the pandemic is that most governments did not use the unique opportunity to further curtail carbon pollution and break resistance of fossil fuel incumbents. “What counts for them is corporate profit – neither the climate nor people’s health.”

The Renewables 2021 Global Status Report shows that governments need to give a much harder push to renewables in all sectors. The window of opportunity is closing unless efforts are significantly ramped up, and it will not be easy to do.

“Governments must not only support renewables but also rapidly decommission fossil fuel capacity. A good way to accelerate development is to make the uptake of renewable energy a key performance indicator for every economic activity, every budget and every single public purchase. Thus, every ministry should have short- and long-term targets and plans to shift to renewable energy coupled with clear end-dates for fossil fuels,” concluded Adib.

You can read EN21’s Renewables 2021 Global Status Report online.

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.