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How COP21 Will Unleash Massive Global Renewable Energy Growth

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The latest report from the influential World Resources Institute (WRI), Assessing the Post-2020 Clean Energy Landscapeindicates that we are poised for an exponential growth in renewable energy production after the Paris COP21 climate conference.

According to the report, which analyzes the clean energy plans of eight of the top 10 carbon emitters in the world, the Paris 2015 conference could help double the current market in the next 15 years.

“These new renewable energy targets send strong signals to energy markets and investment circles,” said Jennifer Morgan, global director of the Climate Program, at World Resources Institute.

Assuming these proposed clean energy plans are achieved, total annual renewable electricity generation will increase by nearly four times between now and 2030. This increase is equivalent to all of India’s current energy demand.

Here are some key highlights:

  • China will increase the share of non-fossil fuel in primary energy consumption to around 20 percent by 2030;

  • European Union will achieve at least a 27 percent share of renewable energy consumption by 2030;

  • U.S. will increase the U.S. share of renewables—beyond hydropower—in the electricity generation mix to 20 percent by 2030.

The report also analyzed the current climate plans submitted by all the countries to the UNFCCC, the so-called INDCs. INDCs (intended nationally determined contributions) have been submitted by more than 150 countries and are expected to provide the fundamental plans for a global deal on climate change next month.

Out of the 127 INDCs submitted, 80 percent of them mentioned clean energy: 67 INDCs (53 percent) indicated clean energy targets and 35 INDCs (27 percent) committed to put forward clean energy actions.

This WRI report preceded the release of IEA's "World Energy Outlook 2015," which gives approximately similar projections but with longer targets: Renewables-based generation reaches 50 percent in the EU by 2040, around 30 percent in China and Japan and above 25 percent in the U.S. and India.

"World leaders meeting in Paris must set a clear direction for the accelerated transformation of the global energy sector." Fatih Birol, executive director, IEA.

Unfortunately, according to the IEA these INDCs and current renewables projections for emissions trajectory implies a long-term temperature increase of 2.7C by 2100. Therefore, more must be done to help all the countries accelerate, grow and implement this massive clean energy transition.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."