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‘Rapid, far-reaching change’: IPCC recommends up to 97% of power from renewables to limit climate change

Image: Getty

Image: Getty

Rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented change is required to limit climate change to 1.5C, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned.

In a crucial new report published this morning, the IPCC has said that amongst significant transitions in other sectors, as much as 97% of power will have to be generated by renewables by 2050.

The wide-ranging and overarching report has found that limiting global warming to 1.5C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions across multiple sectors, of which energy is one. Across the global economy, CO2 emissions would be required to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, before transitioning to net zero by around 2050.

By 2050, the report states that between 49 and 67% of all primary energy use must come from renewable sources, with just 1 – 7% of primary energy originating from coal. And, even then, the IPCC argues that a “large fraction” of coal firing must be in conjunction with carbon capture and storage technologies.

The ranges have been used by the IPCC to account for technology development and strategic choices taken by countries.

When limiting its spotlight to electricity generation, the IPCC says that renewables should grow from a ~28% share in 2020 to as much as 97% by 2050, with the median share equating to around 78%.

This would equate to around 153.72 Exajoules of power, or 42,700TWh per year.

By means of a comparison, the International Energy Agency placed global renewable power output in 2016 at just over 6,000TWh.

The IPCC says there must be a 5% annual growth factor in renewable generation between 2020 and 2050 in order to meet that need.

Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III, said: “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”

Meanwhile Debra Robert, co-chair of IPCC Working Group II, stressed the urgency of the matter and implored governments around the globe to take heed.

“This report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people’s needs. The next few years are probably the most important in our history.”

Richard Black, director at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, described the report as “probably the most important” that the organisation has ever produced.

“The report shows that although 1.5ºC of warming will have serious consequences, the world will be a lot better off there than at higher levels of warming, with far less damage to nature and a lower risk of passing thresholds for irreversible impacts.

“Most importantly, it shows that the challenge of constraining climate change, of reaching net zero carbon emissions by mid-century, can be met. The challenge is formidable – but there plenty of evidence that shows it can done, and plenty that says it’s worthwhile,” he said.

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