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U.N. says low-carbon economy not a 'pipe dream'

Report finds breaking toward renewables may be hard because of the "vested interest" in fossil fuels.

By Daniel J. Graeber
A U.N.-backed report finds decoupling the global economy from conventional fossil fuels by the 2050s is within the realm of possibility. File photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI
A U.N.-backed report finds decoupling the global economy from conventional fossil fuels by the 2050s is within the realm of possibility. File photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo

April 4 (UPI) -- The decline in energy sector emissions and emerging grid parity for renewables shows a shift to a low-carbon economy isn't a "pipe dream," a U.N. panel found.

A report from a United Nations' panel aimed at encouraging a broad-based shift toward renewable energy finds that 2016 was the third year in a row that emissions declined at the same time the global economy expanded.

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The multilateral Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century said that, when it was founded in 2004, "no one imagined" that most of the new power installations in the European Union in 2016 would come from renewable energy and China, the world's second-largest economy, would emerge as a low-carbon leader.

"Some might be tempted to conclude that getting to 100% renewables by mid-century is a pipe dream," REN 21 Chairman Arthouros Zervos said in the report. "But if we've learned one thing about renewable energy deployment over the last decade, it is that, with sufficient political will to adopt good policies and create financial incentives, most obstacles can be overcome."

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In the United States, a report published by advocates at the Natural Resources Defense Council finds extending federal tax credits for wind and solar development could add more than $20 billion to the U.S. economy this year. Two states with strong shale natural gas portfolios – Ohio and Pennsylvania – could stand to see significant additions to state gross domestic product and as many as 19,000 new jobs coming from renewable energy.

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Separately, a report to the Australian government on wind power finds the number of new projects is set to expand significantly this year.

"Wind power is set to become a major part of Australia's power system and regional communities will be the big winners, snaring jobs and crucial economic activity," Australian Wind Alliance national coordinator Andrew Bray told UPI.

RELATED Mega-wind farm offshore Denmark clears hurdle

The U.N. report said decoupling national economies from fossil fuels presents major challenges in countries like Japan and the United States because of "vested interests of the conventional energy industry." Christine Lins, the executive director at REN21, said "wishful thinking" won't push the global economy to where it needs to be to keep the threats of a changing climate at bay.

"Countries as diverse as China and Denmark have shown that decoupling GDP and energy growth is possible," Zervos added.

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