Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, emit little to no greenhouse gases, are readily available and in most cases cheaper than coal, oil or gas. Energy is at the heart of the climate challenge – and key to the solution.
A large chunk of the greenhouse gases that blanket the Earth and trap the sun’s heat are generated through energy production, by burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat.
Fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.
The science is clear: to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, emissions need to be reduced by almost half by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.
To achieve this, we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels and invest in alternative sources of energy that are clean, accessible, affordable, sustainable, and reliable.
Renewable energy sources – which are available in abundance all around us, provided by the sun, wind, water, waste, and heat from the Earth – are replenished by nature and emit little to no greenhouse gases or pollutants into the air.
Fossil fuels still account for more than 80 percent of global energy production, but cleaner sources of energy are gaining ground. About 29 percent of electricity currently comes from renewable sources.
Here are five reasons why accelerating the transition to clean energy is the pathway to a healthy, livable planet today and for generations to come.
In contrast, renewable energy sources are available in all countries, and their potential is yet to be fully harnessed. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that 90 percent of the world’s electricity can and should come from renewable energy by 2050.
Renewables offer a way out of import dependency, allowing countries to diversify their economies and protect them from the unpredictable price swings of fossil fuels, while driving inclusive economic growth, new jobs, and poverty alleviation.
2. Renewable energy is cheaper
Falling prices make renewable energy more attractive all around – including to low- and middle-income countries, where most of the additional demand for new electricity will come from. With falling costs, there is a real opportunity for much of the new power supply over the coming years to be provided by low-carbon sources.
Cheap electricity from renewable sources could provide 65 percent of the world’s total electricity supply by 2030. It could decarbonize 90 percent of the power sector by 2050, massively cutting carbon emissions and helping to mitigate climate change.
Although solar and wind power costs are expected to remain higher in 2022 and 2023 then pre-pandemic levels due to general elevated commodity and freight prices, their competitiveness actually improves due to much sharper increases in gas and coal prices, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).
3. Renewable energy is healthier
The unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide originate mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. In 2018, air pollution from fossil fuels caused $2.9 trillion in health and economic costs, about $8 billion a day.
Switching to clean sources of energy, such as wind and solar, thus helps address not only climate change but also air pollution and health.
4. Renewable energy creates jobs
In addition, energy-related industries would require a further 16 million workers, for instance to take on new roles in manufacturing of electric vehicles and hyper-efficient appliances or in innovative technologies such as hydrogen. This means that a total of more than 30 million jobs could be created in clean energy, efficiency, and low-emissions technologies by 2030.
Ensuring a just transition, placing the needs and rights of people at the heart of the energy transition, will be paramount to make sure no one is left behind.
5. Renewable energy makes economic sense
In comparison, about $4 trillion a year needs to be invested in renewable energy until 2030 – including investments in technology and infrastructure – to allow us to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The upfront cost can be daunting for many countries with limited resources, and many will need financial and technical support to make the transition. But investments in renewable energy will pay off. The reduction of pollution and climate impacts alone could save the world up to $4.2 trillion per year by 2030.
Moreover, efficient, reliable renewable technologies can create a system less prone to market shocks and improve resilience and energy security by diversifying power supply options.
Learn more about how many communities and countries are realizing the economic, societal, and environmental benefits of renewable energy.