a renewable revolution

Nero was famously accused of fiddling during the burning of Rome. Today, some leaders are doing worse. They are throwing fuel on the fire. literally. As a result of the Russian invasion Ukraine Waves around the world, the response of some countries to the growing energy crisis has doubled down on fossil fuels, pouring billions of dollars into coal, oil and gas, a deepening climate emergency.

Meanwhile, all climate indicators continue to break records, predicting future severe storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and habitable temperatures across vast areas of the planet. Fossil fuels are not the answer and never will be. We can see the damage we are doing to the planet and our society.

Fossil fuels are the cause of the climate crisis. Renewable energy can limit climate disruption and promote energy security. Renewable energy is the peace plan of the 21st century. But the battle for a fast and just energy transition is not being fought on a level ground. Investors are still backing fossil fuels, and governments still subsidize billions for coal, oil and gas—about $11 million a minute.

There is a word in favor of short-term relief over long-term well-being – addiction. We are addicted to fossil fuels. For the health of our society and the planet, we need to leave. The only true path to energy security, stable electricity prices, prosperity and a livable planet is to abandon polluting fossil fuels and accelerate the energy transition based on renewable energy.

To this end, I have called on G20 governments to phase out coal infrastructure, with a full phasing out by 2030 for OECD countries and 2040 for all others. I have urged financial actors to abandon fossil fuel finance and invest in renewable energy. And I have proposed a five-point plan to promote renewable energy around the world.

First, we must make renewable energy technology a global public good, including by removing intellectual property barriers to technology transfer. Second, we must improve global access to renewable energy technologies, components and raw material supply chains. In 2020, the world installed five gigawatts of battery storage. We need 600 GW of storage capacity by 2030. Clearly, we need a global coalition to get there. Shipping bottlenecks and supply-chain bottlenecks, as well as high costs for lithium and other battery metals, are hurting the deployment of such technologies and materials.

Third, we need to end the red tape that stifles solar and wind projects. We need fast-track approvals and more effort to modernize the electricity grid. Fourth, the world must shift energy subsidies from fossil fuels to protect vulnerable people from energy shocks and invest in a just transition to a sustainable future. And fifth, we need to invest three times in renewable energy. This includes multilateral development banks and development finance institutions, as well as commercial banks.

We need more promptness from all global leaders. We are already dangerously close to hitting the 1.5°C limit that science tells us is the maximum level of warming to avoid the worst climate impacts. We should reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. But current national commitments will increase this decade by about 14 percent. Which gives a sense of doom.

The answer lies in renewable energy – climate action, energy security and providing clean electricity to the millions of people who currently lack it.
No one has any excuse for rejecting the renewable energy revolution. While oil and gas prices have reached record price levels, renewable energy is getting cheaper all the time. The cost of solar power and batteries has dropped by 85 percent over the past decade. The cost of wind power has come down by 55 percent. And investing in renewable energy creates three times more jobs than fossil fuels.
Of course, renewable energy is not the only answer to the climate crisis. Nature-based solutions such as reversing deforestation and land degradation are essential. Similarly, efforts are being made to promote energy efficiency. But the rapid renewable energy transition should be our ambition.

As we wean ourselves off fossil fuels, the benefits will be huge, and not just for the climate. Energy prices will be lower and more predictable, with positive implications for food and economic security. When energy prices rise, so do the costs of food and all the goods we rely on. So, let us all agree that a rapid renewable revolution is necessary and stop squandering until our future burns out.

The author is the Secretary General of the United Nations