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Homesustainability‘We should be worried’: As COP28 nears, green energy transition is not...

‘We should be worried’: As COP28 nears, green energy transition is not happening fast enough, say industry experts

SINGAPORE: With less than two months until COP28, the United Nations’ annual conference on climate change, all signs point to a losing battle to curb global temperature within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Industry experts are calling on stakeholders and policymakers to collaborate and rethink net-zero targets amid worsening climate change.

Mr Francesco La Camera, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), said it is a concerning trend that world leaders are not meeting targets in cutting carbon emissions.

“We should be worried. We are not on track to limit the increase of the temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century,” he said.

“COP28 has to build a narrative that makes it possible for the 1.5 target to remain within reach.” 

He spoke to CNA’s Asia Now on Monday (Oct 23) on the sidelines of the Singapore International Energy Week, an annual week-long event that brings together industry professionals, policymakers and thought leaders to discuss solutions in the global energy space.

Experts said that while efforts are underway to shift the world’s energy sector from fossil fuel-based systems towards sustainable practices, the transition is not moving fast enough.

Ms Angela Wilkinson, secretary-general of the World Energy Council, said: “We need to move faster and (be) more far reaching. For COP28, it is a challenge of not ‘can we set strict targets?’ but ‘can we close the implementation gap?’”

REASONS TO BE HOPEFUL

The International Energy Agency (IEA), however, has a more positive outlook.

The intergovernmental organisation’s latest Net Zero Roadmap report said that while the “path to the 1.5 degrees Celsius target is narrowing” there are “legitimate reasons to be hopeful.”

The agency’s deputy executive director Mary Burce Warlick told CNA that there have been signs of progress, particularly over the past year.

“Major disruptions experienced in global energy markets have served as a real wake-up call with regards to the importance of diversification and addressing energy security, and moving ahead as fast as possible in terms of the energy transition,” she said. 

Some positive trends include a significant uptick in investments in solar energy, led by China, she said. Increased sales in electric vehicles – one in five vehicles sold today runs on electricity, compared to one in 25 a few years ago – as well as strong growth in electrolyser capacity for hydrogen, which doubled over the past year, were also bright spots.

“In some respects, the clean energy transition is moving faster than many people realise. At the same time, we strongly urge even more attention and the acceleration of these trends,” Ms Warlick said.

IEA has projected that by 2030, global demand for fossil fuel is set to peak and renewables are predicted to provide half of the world’s electricity.

The agency, however, warned that the phase-down of oil, gas and coal is not happening fast enough, and that emissions are still too high to prevent temperatures from rising above the key threshold.

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Ms Warlick said that the agency’s 2030 recommendations include tripling the amount of installed renewable capacity, doubling the amount of energy efficiency, significantly reducing methane emissions by 75 per cent in the oil and gas sectors, and further progress in electrification of the energy sector.

An estimated US$1.8 trillion will be invested in clean energy this year, but the amount needs to rise to around US$4.5 trillion per year by 2030, she added.

‘HUMANISING’ ENERGY

Developing and emerging economies, particularly in Asia, are confronted with the challenge of having not only to provide basic energy services to billions who currently lack access, but also to engage in the global shift towards low-carbon energy systems.

Ms Wilkinson said the task of accelerating the transition to a cleaner planet does not just lie with lawmakers and businesses, but also with anyone who uses energy – basically every one.

Humanising energy is important. We need to help more people and communities understand their role, and use their choices to accelerate this transition,” she said.

“If you think that governments deal with governments and businesses deal with businesses, and neither of them actually respond to the needs of society, that’s just not reality. The reality is: somebody’s got to pay for this transition.”

“Environmental sustainability doesn’t just mean carbon dioxide emissions reduction. It also means forestry protection, food systems and agricultural systems in that sustainability portfolio.”

Mr La Camera said the main barriers to the speed at which renewables are being adopted include the lack of infrastructure to produce, store and transport such energy, a lack of policies that create a demand to substitute fossil fuel, as well as a skilled workforce to put plans into action.

Aside from environmental benefits, governments should embrace the green transition as a way to drive job creation, expand energy access and boost the economy, he said.

“Renewables are not good only because they are clean. They are also less costly to produce, and have a positive impact on jobs – good quality jobs. They also have (a positive impact on) GDP (gross domestic product), as well as energy security, which creates resilience.”

He added: “The green transition is ahead, but the route there has to be short, and we have to act now.”

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