Global roll-out of renewable energy can avert climate catastrophe, says IPCC report

A landmark report issued yesterday by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that catastrophic climate change can be averted if the world transitions to clean energy sources over the coming decade.

The report, which after a series of late and contentious changes, amendments and omissions has been approved by 194 governments, was produced by 1,250 international climate change experts following a week-long IPCC conference in Berlin.

In it, the authors dismiss fears that slashing the use of fossil fuels would perilously damage the global economy by concluding that the diversion of billions of dollars to renewable energy would shave just 0.06% off predicted annual global economic growth rates of between 1.3% and 3%.

The Mitigation Climate Change report found that the least risky and cheapest route towards avoiding a 2C global temperature rise by 2050 is to pursue renewable energy sources – such as solar PV and wind power – at the expense of polluting fossil fuels. The use of gas as a temporary replacement for coal – including shale gas extracted via the controversial fracking technique – is suggested as a decisive alternative, but only if used as part of a transition to a wider adoption of cleaner energy sources.

"The report is clear: the more you wait, the more it will cost [and] the more difficult it will become," said Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner. John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, voiced his support for the report’s findings, saying: "This report is a wake-up call about global economic opportunity we can seize today as we lead on climate change."

In the U.K., energy and climate secretary Ed Davey said that the report shows "the tools we need to tackle climate change are available, but international efforts need to significantly increase."

Shouldering responsibility

Parts of the IPCC report warn of the potential devastation that could be caused to the planet if carbon emissions continue to double, as they have over the past decade. An initial draft – unseen by most media – said that in 2010, ten countries accounted for 70% of all C02 emissions. This line was removed from the final report following objections from those nations cited in the original quotation.

Many "upper middle income" countries also successfully lobbied for the removal of a graph that displayed how their own carbon emissions had shot up dramatically in the decade leading up to 2010, while further contention surrounded the call for rich nations to subsidize developing nations’ own renewable energy efforts.

"Rich nations must take the lead by rapidly weaning themselves off coal, gas and oil and funding low-carbon growth in poorer countries," urged Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth.

The report specifically pointed to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind as the most direct route to averting climate catastrophe, but also outlined proposals to cut waste and develop lower-energy lifestyles as effective measures against the feared 2C temperature rise.

The IPCC report also suggests that current emission-cutting pledges by the world’s leading carbon-polluters are insufficient, and that the 2C limit is likely to be broken by 2050 – particularly if there are further delays in taking decisive action.

Environmental campaign groups have welcomed the report, with the WWF’s Samantha Smith saying: "The IPCC report makes clear that acting on emissions now is affordable, but delaying further increases the costs. It is a super strong signal to fossil fuel investors: they can no longer say they did not know the risks."

Frauke Thies, policy director at the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), was unequivocal in backing the report. "The IPCC’s message is loud and clear: more than 80% of the world’s electricity will have to come from clean sources by the middle of the century, according to most scenarios," she told pv magazine.

"If you look at the technology option to achieve this, renewables and solar PV in particular have shown by far the best track record of continued market uptake and cost reductions."

Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the U.K.’s Solar Trade Association, also told pv magazine that the report has been warmly welcomed. "Scientists have not only set out the urgent need to act but also shown averting dangerous climate change is extremely affordable," she said.

"There is no justification for inaction whatsoever. However, civil society needs to do more than simply press governments to act. Solar means that individuals, businesses and the public sector can all take action today to green their power supply. We need a bottom-up solar revolution that doesn’t wait for politicians, and it needs to start right now."

The full IPCC report document will be published tomorrow, Tuesday April 15th, and will outline further, solar-specific measures.