31/3/2024 Najib Saab

Achieving the goal of tripling the production capacity of renewable energy by 2030 will not be possible if the world continues on the current path. But the objective is technically viable and economically feasible, provided that countries adopt supportive policies and provide large-scale investments. This goal, set by the recent climate summit in Dubai, is necessary to reduce emissions, enabling us to address, in a timely manner, the rise in temperature to limits beyond which catastrophic effects cannot be controlled.

This clear warning that the world is not on the right track in terms of climate action comes in the latest report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), ahead of its annual conference in two weeks. However, the report also included positive data. 2023 witnessed a record in the deployment of renewable energy, supported by the advanced policies adopted by some countries, and geopolitical transformations, especially the Russian-Ukrainian war. This adds to the rapid decline in costs, making generating electricity from the sun the cheapest among all sources. But progress has been limited to specific countries, and is a long way from the goal of tripling production. While the cost of producing solar electricity has witnessed a significant decline, storage is still an expensive process, which requires, to overcome, developing revolutionary technologies, such as hydrogen, to carry and store energy at a reasonable cost, allowing dissemination at a large scale.

The goal of tripling renewable energy capabilities within 6 years also has enormous requirements, on which work is proceeding slowly so far. Among the most important of which is the availability of a strong political will that is translated into programs and laws that do not change according to circumstances, demonstrations, and populist electoral slogans; strengthening the infrastructure of transmission and distribution networks; training qualified human resources for implementation; a giant leap in funding from all available sources, and enhancing international cooperation. This is because the targeted increase means installing more than a thousand gigawatts of renewable energy annually, and doubling investments from the current 570 billion dollars to over 1,550 billion dollars annually until 2030. All of this requires overcoming many of the systemic and structural obstacles hindering the energy transition, which keeps it off the right track.

It is clear that all figures confirm that the stated goals of energy transitions and climate action are still far from being achieved on schedule. Adjustment requires urgent intervention at the policy level, leading to: increasing scientific research budgets in the fields of renewable energy, doubling investments in networks and storage systems, developing human skills, and pumping new investments through the public and private sectors and international partnerships.

But the goals of energy transition and climate action will not be achieved if investments are limited to rich countries, and unless developing countries receive sufficient investment opportunities. Financial flows must reach economically poor countries which are often rich in natural and human resources, in the form of investments, not just loans, and the contribution of national, regional and international development funds must be increased. Preaching the transition to clean and renewable energy is not enough, in the absence of technical and financial support and directing sufficient investments to poor countries. It is also not permissible for some to use “energy poverty” as an excuse to continue deploying polluting sources, when aid money and investments can be better used to deploy cleaner and cheaper sources. Renewables cannot be ignored as a key element for eliminating energy poverty.

All these measures are within reach, if there is clear political will to implement them, thus ensuring that the goals are achieved in the set time frame. However, it is the big economic, military and political powers that mainly hinder implementation, in addition to the reluctance of a large number of developing countries to adopt the principles of good governance.

The world is facing a real dilemma, and getting out of it requires cooperation from everyone to adopt a new, realistic and fair path. It is of no use for some to exploit a mistake here and a delay there, to threaten that energy transformation will hurl humanity back to the Stone Age, as one executive recently declared. Climate change is not an illusion, but a reality, which if not confronted poises an existential threat to humanity, not limited to a shift in ages. Therefore, everyone must work to adjust the course in a way that leads to achieving primary goals, according to a realistic plan.

Until the energy transition is on the right track, an energy mix must be adopted that does not arbitrarily exclude any source, nor does it exclude any possible technology for cleaner uses. The main route to achieve this remains managing demand and rationalizing consumption, rather than blaming producing countries that are simply meeting market needs.

The latest IRENA report confirms that, while it is necessary to work on rectifying the course in a way that leads to achieving the agreed-upon climate goals, it is necessary to prepare an alternative plan if commitments are not met on time, due to policy failures. However, course correction to accelerate implementation must precede the transition to Plan B, as a last resort when all corrective measures are exhausted.