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IRENA’s WETO: re-writes energy narrative for a net-zero world

Image Courtesy: IRENA

Accelerating energy transitions on a path to climate safety can grow the world's economy by 2.4 percent over the expected growth of current plans within the next decade, a new analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) displays. The Agency's 1.5°C pathway foresees the creation of up to 122 million energy-related jobs in 2050, more than double today's 58 million. Renewable energy alone will account for more than a third of all energy jobs employing 43 million people globally, supporting the post-COVID recovery and long-term economic growth.

IRENA's World Energy Transitions Outlook sees renewables-based energy systems instigating profound changes that will reverberate across economies and societies. Sharp adjustments in capital flows and a reorientation of investments are necessary to align energy with a positive economic and environmental trajectory. Forward-looking policies can accelerate the transition, mitigate uncertainties, and ensure maximum benefits of the energy transition. The annual investment of $4.4 trillion needed on average is high. But it is feasible and equals around five percent of global GDP in 2019.

"This Outlook represents a concrete, practical toolbox to the total reorientation of the global energy system and writes a new and positive energy narrative as the sector undergoes a dynamic transition," said Francesco La Camera, IRENA's Director-General. "There is consensus that an energy transition grounded in renewables and efficient technologies is the only way to give us a fighting chance of limiting global warming by 2050 to 1.5°C. As the only realistic option for a climate-safe world, IRENA's vision has become mainstream."

"Energy transformation will drive economic transformation," continued La Camera. "Energy transition is a daunting task but can bring unprecedented new possibilities to revitalize economies and lift people out of poverty. IRENA's Outlook brings unique value as it also outlines the policy frameworks and financing structures necessary to advance a transition that is just and inclusive. Each country will define what is best for them, but collectively, we must ensure that all countries and regions can realize the benefits of the global energy transition for a resilient and more equitable world. We have the know-how, we have the tools, we need to act, and do so now."

The next decade will be decisive to achieve the Paris and Sustainable Developments goals. Any delay will drive us in the direction of further warming, with profound and irreversible economic and humanitarian consequences.

Phasing out coal, limiting investments in oil and gas to facilitate a swift decline and a managed transition as well as embracing technology, policy, and market solutions will put the global energy system on track for a 1.5°C pathway. By 2050, a total of $33 trillion of additional investment is required into efficiency, renewables, end-use electrification, power grids, flexibility, hydrogen, and innovations. The benefits, however, greatly exceed the costs of investments.

When air pollution, human health, and climate change externalities are factored in, the payback is even higher with every dollar spent on the energy transition adding benefits valued at between $2 and $5.5, in cumulative terms between $ 61 trillion and $ 164 trillion by the mid-century.

IRENA's Outlook sees energy transition as a big business opportunity for multiple stakeholders including the private sector, shifting funding from equity to private debt capital. The latter will grow from 44 percent in 2019 to 57 percent in 2050, an increase of almost 20 percent over planned policies. Energy transition technologies will find it easier to obtain affordable long-term debt financing in the coming years, while fossil fuel assets will increasingly be avoided by private financiers and therefore forced to rely on equity financing from retained earnings and new equity issues.

But public financing will remain crucial for a swift, just and inclusive energy transition and to catalyze private finance. In 2019, the public sector provided some $450 billion through public equity and lending by development finance institutions. In IRENA's 1.5°C Scenario, these investments will almost double to some $780 billion. Public debt financing will be an important facilitator for other lenders, especially in developing markets.

As markets alone are not likely to move rapidly enough, policymakers must incentivize but also take action to eliminate market distortions that favor fossil fuels and facilitate the necessary changes in funding structures. This will involve phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and changing fiscal systems to reflect the negative environmental, health, and social costs of fossil fuels. Monetary and fiscal policies, including carbon pricing policies, will enhance competitiveness and level the playing field.

Enhanced international cooperation and a comprehensive set of policies will be critical to driving the wider structural shift towards resilient economies and societies. If not well managed, the energy transition risks inequitable outcomes, dual-track development, and an overall slowdown in the progress. Just and integrated policies will remain imperative to realize the full potential of the energy transition.

Today's policies, finance, and socio-economic analysis complete the outlined technological avenues for a 1.5°C-compatible energy pathway, providing policymakers with a playbook to achieve optimal results from the transition. 

Author : Moulin Oza
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