Huge shift to renewables urged to avoid catastrophic climate damage

A dramatic shift to renewable energy will be needed in the years ahead to avoid catastrophic climate change damage, according to a stark report from leading scientists.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) looks at the prospects of limiting global warming of 1.5C and warns achieving that target will require changes in all aspects of society.

Professor Jim Skea of Imperial College London, who co-chairs the IPCC, said: “Limiting warming to 1.5C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics, but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”

The report estimates that there would need to be a fivefold increase in the average annual investment in low-carbon energy technologies by 2050 compared to 2015. The use of coal-fired power would need to be cut to almost nothing by 2050.

The report includes a number of possible scenarios to cut emissions and keep global warming below 1.5°C, with the middle range where there is little or no overshoot of the target requiring renewables to make up 70 to 85 per cent of electricity by 2050.

‘Great economic opportunity for UK’

Emma Pinchbeck, RenewableUK's executive director, said the report’s calls for annual investment of around $2.4 trillion in the global energy system between 2016 and 2035 is a “great economic opportunity for our country and for consumers”.

“The success of renewable energy in the UK is the result of political leadership to encourage investment in technologies such as offshore wind, in which we lead the world. But we can't rest on our laurels. As well as generating more clean electricity using cheap technologies like onshore wind, and fully commercialising our innovative wave and tidal industries, we need to see much greater progress on decarbonising the heat and transport sectors."

Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group which an alliance of leaders from business, politics and civil society that drives action for a sustainable economy, said the report is clear that there are compelling environmental, economic and social benefits to limiting the increase in global temperatures to 1.5C as envisaged in the Paris Agreement.

“Whilst achieving such a target will require challenging emission cuts across the economy, important progress has already been made and an increase in ambition would unlock a significant innovation and investment opportunity.

"The UK cut its emissions by 43 per cent since 1990, leading the G7, and grew its economy by over 70 per cent in the same period. With strengths in areas such as offshore wind and electric vehicle manufacturing, energy efficient building design and green financial and legal services, UK businesses have a strong basis from which to accelerate emission cuts and be at the forefront of the development of the new clean technologies and services which the world economy will increasingly demand."

UK emissions down 29% since 2000

The IPCC report was published shortly after research by PwC found that the UK has achieved the fastest low-carbon transition of any member of the G20 group of industrialised nations since 2000.

The tenth edition of PwC’s Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) said the UK has decarbonised at 3.7% per year.

Its carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 29% since the millennium, with the economy growing by 34% over the same period.

The country’s decarbonisation rate dipped to 4.7% in 2017, slightly behind 2016’s 4.9%.

> Download the IPCC report