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26% of the World Will Run on Renewables by 2020, Says IEA
The International Energy Agency (IEA) on Friday released a report, Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2015, which found that by 2020, 26 percent of the world’s energy will be generated by renewable sources. The agency notes this is “a remarkable shift in a very limited period of time.”
"Renewable electricity expanded at its fastest rate to date, 130 GW (gigawatts), in 2014 and accounted for more than 45 percent of net additions to world capacity in the power sector," says the report. Costs for renewable energy just keep going down and will continue to do so. "Even in a lower fossil fuel price environment, the policy drivers for renewable electricity—energy diversification, local pollution and decarbonization aims—remain robust."
The world's energy coming from clean sources (mostly hydro, wind and solar) is expected to rise from 22 percent in 2013 to 26 in 2020. "By 2020, the amount of global electricity generation coming from renewable energy will be higher than today’s combined electricity demand of China, India and Brazil."
"Onshore wind leads the global renewable growth, accounting for over one-third of the renewable capacity and generation increase," says the IEA. "Solar PV is the second-largest source of new capacity, another third of deployment. Hydropower accounts for one-fifth of new renewable additions, and over a quarter of generation growth. Meanwhile, other renewable technologies grow slower on an absolute basis, but still scale up significantly. "
And in the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), renewables account for virtually all net additions to power capacity. But these countries only make up one-third of renewable growth. "China, India and Brazil and other developing countries account for two-thirds of the renewable expansion over the medium term," according to the IEA.
And the prospects look good. In the U.S. alone, 40 percent of the nation’s coal plants, that were running just five years ago, have been shut down. Developing countries—namely India and China—are still adding fossil fuel plants, but installment is slowing and expected to peak soon.
“Renewables are poised to seize the crucial top spot in global power supply growth, but this is hardly time for complacency,” the IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said at a press conference held in Istanbul, at the G20 Energy Ministers Meeting, to announce the report’s release. “Governments must remove the question marks over renewables if these technologies are to achieve their full potential, and put our energy system on a more secure, sustainable path.”
The agency finds that the biggest issue remains policies that subsidize dirty energy rather than expedite renewable energy. “But while variability of renewables is a challenge that energy systems can learn to adapt to, variability of policies poses a far greater risk,” says Birol.
Greenpeace and researchers at Stanford and UC Berkeley have already laid out plans for the U.S. and the world to reach 100 percent renewable energy in the coming decades. Now, it seems, we just need the political will.
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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