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Renewable energy can power the world, finds landmark IPCC study

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Renewable energy could account for almost 80 percent of the world's energy supply 2050 -- but only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power during the intervening decades, according to a landmark report released this morning by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Renewable energy can power the world, finds landmark IPCC study

The panel, comprised of the world's leading climate scientists, said that if the full range of renewable technologies – including everything from geothermal to photovoltaics to wind to biomass -- were deployed, the world could keep greenhouse gas concentrations to less than 450 parts per million, the level scientists have predicted will be the limit of safety beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.

The launch of the report is currently being streamed on the IPCC web site.

About 300 GW of new electricity generation capacity was added globally between 2008 and 2009, about 140 GW came from renewable sources, such as wind and the sun, according to the report.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, said given the current pace of expansion of the renewable energy sector, meeting the world’s needs with clean-energy within the next 40 years would cost only about 1 percent of global GNP annually.

Sven Teske, renewable energy director at Greenpeace International, and a lead author of the report, said, "This is an invitation to governments to initiate a radical overhaul of their policies and place renewable energy centre stage”.

“On the run up to the next major climate conference, COP17 in South Africa in December, the onus is clearly on governments to step up to the mark," he continued. “The IPCC report shows overwhelming scientific evidence that renewable energy can also meet the growing demand of developing countries, where over 2 billion people lack access to basic energy services and can do so at a more cost-competitive and faster rate than conventional energy sources.

“Governments have to kick start the energy revolution by implementing renewable energy laws across the globe," he added.

The 1,000-page Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) marks the first time the IPCC has examined low-carbon energy in depth, and the first interim report since the body's comprehensive 2007 review of the science of climate change.

It was adopted by 194 governments after marathon negotiations on 9 May, considers the potential contribution from biomass, geothermal, hydro, ocean, solar and wind energy, as well as their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, their integration into the energy networks, their contribution to sustainable development, and the policies which are needed to put them in place.

“The report clearly demonstrates that renewable technologies could supply the world with more energy than it would ever need, and at a highly competitive cost,” said Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council. “The IPCC report will be a key reference for policy makers and industry alike, as it represents the most comprehensive high level review of renewable energy to date.”

An increasing number of technologies are already economically competitive, and this will increase as further cost reductions and technology improvements are made. The report also emphasises that wind power alone is capable of supplying more than 100 percent of future demand, and solar many times more.

“One key message from the report is that renewable energy sources will be paramount in the global battle against climate change, and their role in saving greenhouse gas emissions will be considerably more important than that of natural gas, carbon capture and storage, or nuclear power,” Sawyer said. “However, it is up to policy makers to make this happen with adequate support and long-term commitment. One crucial opportunity for this will be the next round of climate negotiations in South Africa in December this year.”

Although the authors are optimistic about the future of renewable energy, they note that many forms of the technology are still more expensive than fossil fuels, and find that the production of renewable energy will have to increase by as much as 20 times in order to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

Investing in renewables can also help poor countries to develop, particularly where large numbers of people lack access to an electricity grid.

"The report shows that it is not the availability of [renewable] resources but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,” said Ramon Pichs, co-chair of one of the working groups that assembled the report. “Developing countries have an important stake in the future – this is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment."

For additional information:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Executive Summary

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