The race to net-zero: How world leaders plan to achieve their carbon neutrality target
Global Transition to Renewable Energy:
Prominent figures and world leaders from nearly 200 countries agreed to a deal, made at the United Nations climate conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), last year, to transition away from the use of fossil fuels to avert the worst effects of climate change.
While mostly only pledges were made in COP26 and COP27, at COP28, delegates have said the target of capping global temperatures at 1.5o Celsius above pre-industrial levels is now “within reach” after the historic package of measures that offers a robust plan was approved.
“Humanity has finally done what is long, long, long overdue,” Wopke Hoekstra, European Union (EU) commissioner for climate action, said as the summit – held from November 30 to December 13, 2023 – wrapped up.
The COP28, which stands for Conference of Parties, is a gathering of world leaders to jointly address the challenge of climate change and discuss plans and funds to push the planet towards the use of clean energy. The countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed in 1994 to attend this annual event.
The gathering in 2020, which was supposed to be the 26th meeting, was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and moved to 2021, making last year’s event the 28th meeting.
It signaled the “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said in his closing speech, referring to the agreement reached during the summit where the delegates laid the groundwork for “a swift, just, and equitable transition, underpinned by deep emissions cuts and scaled-up finance.” The transition would aid in pushing countries to their net-zero goals.
“Now, all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes without delay,” Stiell added.
Beyond the pledges:
The total climate financing mobilized at the summit reached over $85 billion, organizers in the UAE said. This includes the $3.5 billion to replenish the Green Climate Fund, bringing the second replenishment to $12.8 billion.
COP28 also mobilized an almost $188 million funding toward the Adaptation Fund, setting the pace for a new era in climate action. Foundations and other funders pledged about $2.1 billion in new financing to ease the impact of climate change and increase aid for vulnerable communities.
Stiell said “finance is the great enabler for climate action.”
To adapt to climate change, countries will collectively need to spend US$300 billion a year by 2030 and US$500 billion by 2050, according to a UN report. It was also estimated that developing nations will need 10 to 18 times more financing for adaptation than what is currently earmarked.
World leaders said there is a need to accelerate climate financing as the longer investment in energy transition is being put off, the more expensive it will become.
The role of renewable energy:
Switching to clean sources of energy is seen as a critical solution in combating climate change. Transitioning to renewable energy, like wind and solar, will help address not only climate change, but also air pollution and health, the UN explained.
The greenhouse gases that blanket the Earth and trap heat from the sun are generated through energy production, by burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat. Fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and gas, are seen as the largest contributors to climate change. Oil and coal are also particularly vulnerable to sudden shocks brought on by geopolitical events, like the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Accelerating the Global Shift to Clean Energy:
For countries to achieve their target to be net zero by 2050, reliance on fossil fuels need to be stopped and investment in alternative sources of energy that are clean, accessible, affordable, sustainable, and reliable, need to be accelerated. And for this to happen, roadblocks in the adoption process and barriers to gaining knowledge in renewable energy should be removed.
Governments across the globe play a crucial role in promoting the use of clean energy. This can be done by implementing policies like feed-in tariffs, incentivizing investment in renewable energy projects. Subsidies can also sway the momentum in favor of it.
Transitioning to clean energy is a long and complicated path, and although solar and wind power costs have gone high in 2022 and 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels, their competitiveness are expected to improve due to the sharp increases in gas and coal prices, the International Energy Agency (IEA) explained.
Countries leading the transition:
According to a 2021 report published by the World Economic Forum, these are the top performing countries when it comes to energy transition:
In 2022, the share of renewable energies in electricity generation in Sweden went up to 68.38% from 57.25% in 2000, data from Statista showed. The country produces most of its electricity from hydropower, which accounts for about 43% of the total generation.
Almost all of Norway’s electricity production is based on renewable energy sources, according to a report by the UNFCCC. It is also the seventh largest hydropower nation in the world, and the largest in Europe.
The global energy crisis brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlighted Denmark’s need for security of supply and diversification. The country now has ambitious renewable energy deployment targets in place, mostly in the heating sector with an aim to fully replace fossil fuels with biomethane by 2030. The country is also planning to increase offshore wind capacity to almost eightfold, and quadrupling onshore wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) by the same year, the IEA said.
France accounted for some of the largest energy transition investments worldwide in 2022 and was planning a joint development of renewables and nuclear power in the decades to come, Statista reported. The country has been setting ambitious energy transition objectives to meet its target to be carbon neutral by 2050.
The United Kingdom was at number five in the world at generating wind power in 2022, according to the Energy Institute’s Statistical Review of World Energy. The UK generated 14 terawatt hours of solar power in the same year.
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