A study published this month by the World Resources Institute (WRI) analysed the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the 10 largest greenhouse gas emitters to determine how much they will clean up their energy mix in the next 15 years.
Eight of the 10 – Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and the United States – will double their cumulative clean energy supply by 2030. The increase is equivalent to current energy demand in India, the world’s second-most populous nation.
“We looked at renewable energy because it’s a leading indicator for the global transition to a low-carbon economy. We won’t get deep emissions reductions without it,” WRI researcher Thomas Damassa, one of the report’s authors, told IPS.
More than 150 countries have presented their INDCs, most of which commit to actions between 2020 and 2030. They will be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.
Since energy production is the main source of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for around 65 percent of emissions worldwide, efforts to curb emissions are essential and must lie at the heart of the new treaty, especially when it comes to the biggest emitters, experts say.
Of the 10 largest emitters, Russia and Canada were not included in the study because they have not announced post-2020 renewable energy targets.
Currently, one-fifth of global demand for electric power is covered by renewable sources, according to a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), and their cost is swiftly going down. Hydroelectricity still makes up 61 percent of all renewable energy.
But fossil fuels continue to dominate the global energy supply and power generation, making up 78.3 percent and 77.2 percent, respectively, according to REN21.
Studies indicate that in countries like India, where there are serious challenges in terms of access to energy, wind power is now as cheap as coal, and solar power will reach that level by 2019.
“The INDCs collectively send an important financial signal globally that renewables are a priority in the next two decades and a viable, pragmatic solution to the energy challenges countries are facing,” said Damassa.
Coordination between industrialised and emerging countries is crucial, especially the powerful BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bloc.
That is because industrialised nations are historically responsible for GHG emissions but the BRICS and other emerging countries now produce a majority of global emissions.
China is the leading emitter of GHG emissions and the biggest consumer of energy. But it is also the largest producer of renewable energy, accounting for 32 percent of the world’s wind power production and 27 percent of hydroelectricity, followed in the latter case by Brazil, which produces 8.5 percent of the world’s hydropower.
The Asian giant aims to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuel sources by 20 percent by 2030. The country currently uses coal for 65 percent of its energy, while mega-dams represent just 15 percent.
In the first meeting of energy ministers of the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging nations, held Oct. 5 in Istanbul, the officials acknowledged the importance of renewable sources and their long-term potential and pledged to continue investing in and researching clean energy.
Of the 127 INDCs presented as of late October – the EU presented the commitments of its 28 countries as a bloc – 80 percent made clean energy a priority.
“They certainly help but clearly countries still need to go farther, faster – and in sectors outside of energy as well – to drive emissions down to the level that is needed,” said Damassa.
The pledges made so far would keep global warming down to a 2.7 degree Celsius increase, according to the UNFCCC secretariat, although other studies are more pessimistic, putting the rise at 3.5 degrees.
To avoid irreversible effects for the planet, global temperatures must not rise more than two degrees C above preindustrial levels, although even with that increase, severe effects would be felt in different ecosystems.
Because of that it will be essential to reassess the national pledges during the climate talks in Paris, and establish a clear mechanism for ongoing follow-up of the actions taken by each country.
“I see all of the BASIC (the climate negotiating group made up of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) pledges as ‘first offers’ that will have to be reassessed after the Paris deal is finalised,” Natalie Unterstell, the negotiator on behalf of Brazil at the UNFCCC, told IPS.
The expert, who is now a Louis Bacon Environmental Leadership Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in the U.S., points to key differences between these four countries and Russia, the fifth member of BRICS.
She also explained that while these four countries agreed to reduce the proportion of fossil fuels in their energy mix, there are differences in how they aim to do so.
Adaptation is a large component in South Africa’s INDCs – a signal that the carbon-based economy understands the need to build a more resilient future. India is putting a strong emphasis on solar energy, and Brazil pledged to raise the share of renewable sources in its energy mix to 45 percent by 2030.
Brazil’s proposal is based partly on large hydropower dams, some of which are in socially and environmentally sensitive areas, like the Amazon rainforest.
Meanwhile, the actions that China takes can, by themselves, facilitate or complicate the talks. According to Untersell, the country “has a comparative advantage as it has committed itself to develop renewables technology and is delivering its promise.”
Ties between these emerging economies and the industrialised powers were strengthened over the last year by a series of bilateral accords that began to be reached in November 2014, with the announcement that China and the United States had agreed on joint actions in the areas of climate and energy.
“These agreements are good signals for the industry to transition (to a cleaner model). However, the private sector needs more than aspirational goals to base their operations,” said the expert.
But she said it was a good thing that the agreement between the two countries was based on actions on an internal level, because this shows concrete changes in the energy policies of both nations.
Besides the agreement with Washington, China has signed another with France, Brazil did the same with Germany, and India did so with the United States, in an effort by these countries to speed up their internal transition before COP21.
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