There is no doubt that a drastic, urgent scale up behind renewable energy is vital. Tripling renewables by 2030 will help establish the energy infrastructure we need for a decarbonized world, improve energy security, and make our planet more resilient. Momentum is growing behind a pledge to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity by 2030.
While we welcome the Pledge, we should not let this distract us from the urgent need to phase out fossil fuels. Not just coal but oil and gas too are responsible for the climate destruction that we see everywhere around us in floods, cyclones, desertification and wildfires, and for devastating impacts to human health. We are encouraged to see the world’s two biggest economies have recognized the need for renewables to substitute for coal, oil and gas generation in their recent joint statement.
There are simply far more fossil fuels in the Earth’s crust than we can ever burn, and as we deploy renewable energy at a speed and intensity that allows us to supply clean energy to all, it would be unacceptable for fossil fuel producers to respond by continuing to increase production to defend their market share. Peaking emissions before 2025, and nearly halving them by 2030 – which the IPCC says is required to stay within the 1.5C temperature limit– means making all fossil fuel producers uncomfortable. If we let vested interests decide the pace of change in the energy sector, promoting expensive, unproven solutions to allow for continued extraction, then that change will be too little, too late. Too many will die as a result.
As the impacts pile up around us, we must phase out fossil fuels, putting in place individual commitments with follow up plans, and ensure that countries that need resources to pursue a clean energy future have them. A global target just on renewable energy will not be enough on its own.
It’s on us, as governments, to put regulations in place that incentivize fossil fuel companies to move towards renewables, and certainly to stop subsidizing them, which makes it much harder for renewables to compete. At COP28 we need to agree on a global commitment to phase out fossil fuels, and to start setting clear timelines and metrics for doing so. This is the only way to ensure a fast, equitable and just transition away from fossil fuels.
And we can’t fall into the trap of thinking that abatement is the miracle cure. These technologies can’t be used to greenlight further expansion of fossil fuels when they’re unproven, expensive, and difficult to scale.
We also can’t afford to ignore the commitment to global low-carbon development promised by the Paris Agreement. Currently, investment in renewable energy in the developing world is going primarily to large economies, with three quarters of the US $770b going to China, India, and Brazil. Investment in those countries is critical. But ensuring that no one is left behind means bringing down the cost of capital and investing across the developing world, including in small island developing states and least developed countries.
Let’s pursue the goal of tripling renewables. But let’s not think that it will be enough on its own, or let it distract us from putting together a package to transition the world’s energy system that ensures renewables substitute for, oil, gas and coal, repurposing trillions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies towards a fair energy transition that doesn’t leave the world’s most vulnerable behind.