This first Global Renewables Outlook arrives while the world suffers through the COVID-19 pandemic, which brings dramatic numbers of people infected, a mounting death toll, and social and economic disruption for regions, countries and communities.
The priority now remains to save as many lives as possible, bring the health emergency under control and alleviate hardship. At the same time, governments are embarking on the monumental task of devising stimulus and recovery packages. These are at a scale to shape societies and economies for years to come.
This response must align with medium- and long-term priorities. The goals set out in the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement can serve as a compass to keep us on course during this disorienting period. They can help to ensure that the short-term solutions adopted in the face of COVID-19 are in line with medium- and long-term development and climate objectives.
Stimulus and recovery packages should accelerate the shift to sustainable, decarbonised economies and resilient inclusive societies. The Nationally Determied Contributions (NDCs) to be presented by the end of this year, as required under the Paris Agreement, should be the backbone of the stimulus package.
In this respect, the Global Renewables Outlook shows the path to create a sustainable future energy system. It highlights climate-safe investment options until 2050 and the policy framework needed to manage the transition. Building on earlier Global Energy Transformation reports, it also grapples with the decarbonisation of challenging industry and transport sectors and presents a perspective on deeper decarbonisation.
Raising regional and country-level ambitions will be crucial to meet interlinked energy and climate objectives. Renewables, efficiency and electrification provide a clear focus for action until mid-century. Several regions are poised to reach 70-80% renewable energy use in this outlook. Electrification of heat and transport would similarly rise across the board.
The nature of this crisis calls for a major state role in the response. This involves defining the strategies and initiating direct interventions for the way out. Expansionary budget policies may be envisaged to support this effort.
Economies need more than a kick-start. They need stable assets, including an inclusive energy system that supports low-carbon development. Otherwise, even with the global slowdown momentarily reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the eventual rebound may restore the long-term trend. Fossil-fuel investments would continue polluting the air, adding to healthcare costs and locking in unsustainable practices.
Although renewable energy technologies may be affected by the pandemic just like other investments, energy market dynamics are unlikely to disrupt investments in renewables. Price volatility undermines the viability of unconventional oil and gas resources, as well as longterm contracts, making the business case for renewables even stronger. One further result would be the ability to reduce or redirect fossil-fuel subsidies towards clean energy without adding to social disruptions.
A renewable energy roadmap
Economic recovery packages must serve to accelerate a just transition. The European Green Deal, to take an existing example, shows how energy investments could align with global climate goals. The time has come to invest trillions, not into fossil fuels, but into sustainable energy infrastructure.
Recovery measures could help to install flexible power grids, efficiency solutions, electric vehicle (EV) charging systems, energy storage, interconnected hydropower, green hydrogen and multiple other clean energy technologies. With the need for energy decarbonisation unchanged, such investments can safeguard against short-sighted decisions and greater accumulation of stranded assets.
COVID-19 does not change the existential path required to decarbonise our societies and meet sustainability goals. By making the energy transition an integral part of the wider recovery, governments can achieve a step change in the pursuit of a healthy, inclusive, prosperous, just and resilient future.
While each country must work with a different resource mix, all of them need a 21st-century energy system. The response must provide more than just a bail-out for existing socio-economic structures.
Now, more than ever, public policies and investment decisions must align with the vision of a sustainable and just future. Making this happen requires a broad policy package – one that tackles energy and climate goals hand in hand with socio-economic challenges at every level. A just transition should leave no one behind.
I hope sincerely that this new publication helps to show the way.
Francesco La Camera, Director-General, IRENAIRENA_Global_Renewables_Outlook_2020