Renewables will overtake coal if climate pledges are kept

An analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has shown that wind, solar and other renewables will overtake coal and become the world’s premier electricity source by 2030 if the pledges made by countries in the lead up to Paris are met.

According to IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, if today’s energy corporations assume that climate action isn’t going to affect their business they are making a fatal error, akin to assuming that interest rates will stay the same for the next quarter of a century.


In a first for UN climate talks, nearly every country is charged with limiting their greenhouse gas emissions under the global agreement to be signed in Paris this December. The measures tabled by a large number of countries should rapidly reduce fossil fuel use (especially coal) according to the IEA. It also cautions that initiatives launched to date won’t be enough to stop global average temperatures increasing below 2°C, a level which countries had previously agreed shouldn’t be exceeded because it could increase the risk of catastrophic climate change.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Birol explained that for the wellbeing of all of the world’s people, the bond between economic growth and emissions had to be severed. In 2014, carbon dioxide emissions stalled and economic growth across the world grew, which raised speculation that the previously thought inseparable link between economic growth and emissions may be finally splitting. He was adamant that there was no guarantee that carbon dioxide concentrations would plateau in the future as a number of countries are still building coal fired power plants.


The IEA is seeking a long term deadline for the phase out of greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Paris agreement as that will offer stronger guidance for business investment than the current warming limit of 2°C. Last week, the G7 nations backed a phase out of greenhouse gas emissions this century and a sharp reduction by 2050.

The nearly 200 countries negotiating the Paris climate agreement are divided, with some saying that emissions should be almost eliminated by 2050 while others say a firm deadline isn’t necessary. In order to meet climate targets, renewable energy investment would have to rise sharply from the $270 billion reached globally in 2014 in order to power the world’s electricity grids, cars and factories.



Renewables accounted for approximately half of all new power plant capacity last year and the IEA expects that share to rise in the near future. They accounted for 22% of global electricity generation compared to coal at 41%, and according to IEA’s analysis of countries’ Paris pledges, renewables’ share will increase to 32% by 2030.

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