Transition

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We have the technology – now we need the will and speed

OPINION | As the UN convenes its Climate Action Summit in New York amid calls for an urgent gearing-up of plans to battle global environmental breakdown, Darius Snieckus writes only ‘business as unusual' will save us

The civilisation-transforming shift away from a fossil-fuel-based power system may be gathering pace but — as is belatedly being recognised — it is not happening anywhere near fast enough to avert the gathering storm of climate change.

Nor does the fact that renewables are on track to account for over 80% of total electricity output by 2050, with wind and solar power expanding 20-fold globally — as forecast in consultancy DNV GL’s latest Energy Transition Outlook (ETO) — lighten the sense of doom.

The ETO report calculates that the planet is on a trajectory to be 2.4°C hotter in 2100 than before the Industrial Revolution — significantly lower than the World Meteorological Organization’s report, which points to 2.9°C-3.4°C and, either way, heating catastrophically higher than the 1.5-2°C targeted by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

As Ditlev Engel, head of DNV GL’s energy division, darkly phrased it: “Right now we are on a road to a place nobody wants to go.”

Maddeningly, it is not that we haven’t the means to save ourselves from ourselves. The technologies are there: PV is foreseen generating 36,000TWh a year globally by 2050, and wind 17,000TWh, accounting for nearly two-thirds of worldwide electricity production.

And the ramp-up of solar and wind needed to “close the gap” on the 1.5°C target — installed capacities of 3TW and 5TW, respectively — is affordable and industrially achievable, according to DNV GL calculations.

'Right now we are on a road to a place nobody wants to go'

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It is tempting to feel some Thanatos drive, a sort of collective death wish, has set us on this hell-bent path. But the reason is probably much more mundane: governments hamstrung by regulatory stasis, where what is needed are status quo-breaking policy shifts. ‘Business as unusual’ has not yet become the new ‘business as usual’.

This week, the UN will hold its Climate Action Summit in New York, with the aim of supercharging the required change of mindset and method with “practical and new measures” to speed up the energy transition, protect nature and “create cleaner, greener ways to work and move”.

Renewable-energy detractors in many backward-looking government administrations have largely given up publicly pointing to the high price of wind and solar power as an argument against transitioning away from fossil fuels, as both now undercut coal, oil and new-build gas on levelised cost of energy.

And their opposition to these clean-energy resources on “intermittency” grounds is now rapidly being swept aside too, by the rise of “build-anywhere-long-duration-intermittent energy storage” — or “Baldies”. These next-generation thermal-energy and liquid-air technologies, alongside green hydrogen, are in many ways humanity’s best hope.

Turning wind and solar power into clean 24 /7 power sources will mean there will no longer be any excuses to not decarbonise our over-heating planet.

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