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A fossil-free world by 2050 not an 'unattainable utopia', says WWF

Ecologist

3rd February, 2011

In 2009 alone, China installed enough renewable energy capacity to meet the UK's electricity consumption four times over, proving a fossil-free energy supply is achievable

Global carbon emissions from our energy use in the home and by industry could be reduced by 80 per cent by 2050, helping to keep temperature rises below two degrees, according to a report from WWF.

The Energy Report, published today, says it is possible for 95 per cent of the world's energy requirements to come from renewable sources by 2050. Analysis from consultants Ecofys is based on population, passenger travel and industrial output continuing to rise but overall energy demand falling by 15 per cent due to ambitious energy-saving measures.

Like the Zero Carbon Britain report produced by the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) last year, it recommends a combination of electrification, insulation and a large scaling up of offshore wind and other renewables to reduce emissions.

However, it admits the world would be required to take on a large debt in capital expenditure - that may not start to pay-off until 2040 - to fund improvements to public transport, energy efficiency in buildings and investments in renewable energy. 'If oil prices rise faster than predicted and if we factor in the cost of climate change and the impact of fossil fuels on public health, the pay-off occurs much earlier,' it adds.

At present more than 80 per cent of the world's energy comes from oil, coal and gas supplies. As well being major contributors to climate change there are concerns that increasing pressure to find cheap or unconventional reserves risks more environmental disasters such as the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the controversy over shale gas fracking in the UK.

With more than half of all new power capacity installed in Europe and the US in 2009 coming from renewable sources, the WWF report says the world was on the right track. However, it points out that government subsidies and private investments in fossil fuels and nuclear power projects still 'vastly outweigh' those into renewable energy. It says nuclear power is too expensive and produces toxic waste that after 50 years 'we still have no reliable way of storing'. The US and Germany alone have accumulated more than 60,000 tonnes of radioactive waste which has not yet been disposed of securely.

'Before pouring billions into creating a new generation of nuclear or gas power stations we need to ask whether that money would be better invested in other, more sustainable energy technologies, especially if these other technologies can create a substantial number of new jobs in the UK,' says WWF-UK head of energy policy Nick Molho.

'Renewable energy and better grid interconnection with Europe has the potential to meet all of our energy needs in a very sustainable way.'

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