UN's climate change science body says renewables supply, particularly solar power, can meet global demand
|A solar power plant in the Mojave desert. (Photograph: AP)|
Renewable energy could more than meet the world's expected growth in future energy demand, according to a landmark report published on Monday. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of the world's leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations, said that solar power holds out the greatest hope for generating low-carbon energy around the planet.
The report marks the first time the IPCC has examined low-carbon energy in depth, and the first interim report since the body's comprehensive 2007 review of the science of climate change.
Although the authors are optimistic about the future of renewable energy, they note that many forms of the technology are still more expensive than fossil fuels, and find that the production of renewable energy will have to increase by as much as 20 times in order to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. Renewables will play a greater role than either nuclear or carbon capture and storage by 2050, the scientists predict.
Investing in renewables can also help poor countries to develop, particularly where large numbers of people lack access to an electricity grid.
About 13% of the world's energy came from renewable sources in 2008, a proportion likely to have risen as countries have built up their capacity since then, with China leading the investment surge, particularly in wind energy. But by far the greatest source of renewable energy used globally at present is burning biomass (about 10% of the total global energy supply), which is problematic because it can cause deforestation, leads to deposits of soot that accelerate global warming, and cooking fires cause indoor air pollution that harms health.
As with all IPCC reports, the summary for policymakers – the synopsis of the report that will be presented to governments and is likely to impact renewable energy policy – must be agreed line by line and word by word unanimously by all countries. This will be done at Monday's meeting in Abu Dhabi. This makes the process lengthy, but means that afterwards no government or scientist represented can say that they disagree with the finished findings, which the IPCC sees as a key strength of its operations.
As a result of this process, the key summary is not likely to be published until around noon on Monday.
Brightsource Energy’s Solar Energy Development
Center in Israel’s Negev desert
Water is pumped for heating from a depth of three
kilometers (Photo: RNW)