Amid the climate gloom, surging renewables bring a ray of hope

Are we at a positive tipping moment in the race for decarbonisation? Paul Rogers, emeritus professor at Bradford University, England, discusses the reasons to be cautiously optimistic about green energy.

The World Meteorological Organization has released the latest warning about the global warming impact. reported recentlyThe future effects of extreme weather on world energy supplies could be just as devastating as the one caused by the war in Ukraine.

The WMO’s State of Climate Services report also concluded that if climate breakdown is to be avoided, we need to double the use of clean energy resources by 2030.

Its conclusions are broadly similar to those of the much-publicised UN paper that came out before last year’s COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, which called for an annual 7 per cent reduction in carbon emissions throughout this decade. One year later, this reduction has not been achieved. This means that the reduction must now average 8 per cent per year with the chance of reaching that target fading by each month. 

It seems that there is reason for deep pessimism. The Ukraine war only adds to the problem. This is far from the truth. There are other trends which can be viewed as reasons for cautious optimism.

Renewable energy specialists have been pointing out a potential change in their field for many years. This is mainly due to a variety of technical improvements that have led to a sharp decrease in the cost of producing electricity from renewables. This trend could continue for many years.

Recent months have seen the results of research programs at Stanford UniversityAnd Oxford UniversityThis has been confirmed by many, making it more sensible to develop and deploy renewable energy technology over all other forms of power generation.


The global renewable capacity is expected to increase more than 60 percent by 2026 compared with 2020 levels. Image: Zbynek Burival

These results were published at a time when renewable energy is already on the rise. According to the International Energy Agency, by 2026 “global renewable electricity capacity is forecast to rise more than 60 per cent from 2020 levels to over 4,800 GW – equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined.” 

The agency added: “Renewables are set to account for almost 95 per cent of the increase in global power capacity through 2026, with solar PV alone providing more than half.”

The implications of this for rapid carbonisation are just now starting to be appreciated by financial, industrial, as well as some political circles. It is the most positive news in years, if it not decades.

Lobbyists and politicians for fossil fuels are at risk of slowing down the energy transition. Image by Yaopey Yong

However, it does not mean that it will be simple to transition to a low carbon world. Some countries have this because of political recalcitrance, as ideology gets in way of change. However, more generally it is because there is a lot of opposition from the fossil-fuel industries.

Britain is one of the most extreme examples of political opposition. The new Truss government seems determined to match EU regulations for environmental protection and to be strongly anti-decarbonisation.

It doesn’t make sense, especially as the UK has incredible potential to utilize renewable energy reserves, primarily wind and solar, but with considerable potential for tidal force. This is an area in which the UK could be a leader in the world, along with better energy conservation.

Richard Reeve examined the enormous lobbying power of fossil fuel corporations during a recent co-authored paper for Rethinking Security. He points out that the lobbying power of these companies is far greater than that of smaller, but more powerful, companies in the renewable energy industry.

We should go full speed ahead with the green energy transition because it’s going to save us money

While opposition to change is largely rooted in fossil fuel industries, it also has the political dimension that a dominant far right ideology of market fundamentalism is so set in its ways it doesn’t accept the need for government-level intervention on the market.

This view has a problem. It doesn’t make economic sense, aside from everything else. Referring to the Oxford study, a BBC report quotes Doyne Farmer, one of its authors, on an obvious conclusion to draw: “Even if you’re a climate denier, you should be on board with what we’re advocating. Our central conclusion is that we should go full speed ahead with the green energy transition because it’s going to save us money.”

That does rather pull the economic rug from under even the most convinced neoliberal politicians who believe that we are bedevilled by the ‘anti-growth brigade’.

If you believe that radical decarbonisation of the planet is necessary for global stability, then we see the potential for a fundamental shift to the favor of renewables. Although it is early days, there is real cause to be optimistic.

This article is published under Creative Commons license. The original versionPublished on Open Democracy

Main image: Peter Dargatz