climate change energy

Dozens of countries aim for 100% renewable energy

After the big events of Paris last year, and with the news dominated by the US elections, there’s been very little coverage of this year’s climate talks in Marrakech. And indeed, no big news was expected this time. You can read the ‘action proclamation‘ if you’re so inclined, and Jeremy Leggett has a good round-up of other key announcements. I might mention one or two of them next week, but this is that caught my eye: 48 countries have pledged to shift to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

I’ve written before about the countries that run on 100% renewables. There are a handful at or around 100% already, and not necessarily the ones you expect. That list is going to be a whole lot longer in a few years time, as dozens of countries commit to full decarbonisation.

As is often the case, the countries with the highest ambitions when it comes to climate change are those with the most at stake. This particular pledge has come from members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which is dominated by developing countries. These are nations that understand what it means to be on the front lines of climate change.

Among the 48 countries that have signed up to the 100% renewable target are dry countries at risk from desertification, such as Tunisia or Ethiopia. Small island states are well represented, including the Maldives and Marshall Islands, and others vulnerable to rising seas such as Bangladesh. Tanzania, Haiti, and many of the world’s poorest countries have taken the pledge too.

Several of the countries on the list have made good progress already, with Costa Rica the front runner to be the world’s first carbon neutral country. For countries like Madagascar or Rwanda, the commitment to clean energy is a leapfrogging goal, as many citizens don’t yet have access to electricity.

Because the 48 countries on this list are modest emitters of greenhouse gases, the cumulative impact is not hugely significant. Neither does it promise to take a big chunk of fossil fuel generation offline. What I find interesting about this is that it sets the direction of the future firmly towards renewable energy. Not so long ago you would find voices declaiming the right of developing countries to use fossil fuels. Lobbyists from countries like Australia would bang the drum for coal as a solution to energy poverty, and decry environmentalist elites that would deny the poor a cheap source of energy. Those days are over.

Wind and solar are proven technologies. They are getting cheaper all the time. 100% renewable energy is now feasible, and also aspirational. Yes, it’s more expensive for advanced economies to transition, but our own goals look pretty pathetic: 20% renewable energy by 2030 in America, 20% of final energy consumption by 2020 in the EU. Leadership on climate action is coming from the poorest, and we need to fall in line.

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