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May 9, 2011 

Renewable Energy Likely to Become Dominant Climate Change Solution by 2050, U.N. Study Concludes

But Support for Renewable Energy Policies Remains Key to Reaching Goals

WASHINGTON (May 9, 2011): Renewable energy is likely to become the world’s dominant climate change solution by the middle of the century, according to a new study by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It has the potential to be more competitive than nuclear power, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage and other low-carbon energy options across a majority of the scenarios analyzed for the report.

More than 160 scenarios were examined for the study, with the most optimistic suggesting that almost 80 percent of the world’s energy supply could come from renewable sources by 2050, although that could occur only with government policies supporting deep cuts in heat-trapping emissions. The report also concluded that the technical potential of renewable energies is 20 times greater than what global demand for energy is projected to be in 2050.

If the full range of renewable technologies were to be deployed, levels of heat-trapping emissions could be kept to concentrations lower than 450 parts per million. This level could help keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°F from current levels, the temperature beyond which scientists have predicted would likely lead to the most serious consequences of climate change.

The report points out that the renewable energy transition is already underway. Nearly half of new electric generating capacity added globally in both 2008 and 2009 was from renewable sources. The same was true in the United States, with wind, solar, and other renewable technologies providing more than 40 percent of the new generating capacity.

"This IPCC report makes it clear that renewable energy has tremendous potential to meet our energy needs and confront the challenge of climate change. But we must do much more to scale up clean energy sources," said Rachel Cleetus, UCS climate economist. "Many renewables are already economically competitive with fossil fuels and nuclear energy, especially when you take into account all the hidden costs of conventional energy—such as public health risks, air and water pollution, global warming emissions, and security risks."

In a 2009 analysis titled “Climate 2030: A National Blueprint for a Clean Energy Economy,” UCS concluded that by adopting a comprehensive package of climate and clean energy policies in the U.S., renewable sources could provide 25 percent of the nation’s energy supply and 50 percent of electricity generation by 2030. When combined with investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, according to the UCS analysis, could help reduce heat-trapping emissions in 2030 by 56 percent from 2005 levels and save consumers money in every region of the country.

“To reach a low-carbon global economy by 2050 requires making smart policy choices and investments today,” said Steve Clemmer, UCS Director of Energy Research and Analysis. “Here in the U.S. we can make serious progress by building on what the states have already done and adopt strong national renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards, and a price on carbon. That’s a sure way to transition to a clean energy economy while driving down costs and significantly reducing emissions.”

More details on the report can be seen on the IPCC website. One of the lead co-authors is William Moomaw, director for the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University. He can be reached at William.Moomaw@tufts.edu.

 

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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