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Solar cell charging a battery. Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Ollivier Girard / Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Solar cell charging a battery. Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Ollivier Girard / Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
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Powering the world with renewables - we can do it!

Dipti Bhatnagar & Sam Cossar-Gilbert

23rd November 2015

An energy revolution that would take the world to 100% renewables in 15 years is possible, write Sam Cossar-Gilbert and Dipti Bhatnagar. We have the technology, and we even have the money - only it's currently being spent to subsidise fossil fuels. The time has come to tackle two hugely destructive and closely entwined crises - growing inequality and climate change.

To create a climate-safe, just and sustainable world it is crucial we address inequality head on. This means transforming the way we produce, distribute and consume energy.

In just a few days world leaders will meet at the United Nations climate summit in Paris to decide on a new global treaty to limit carbon emissions that cause global warming.

Climate Change threatens to destroy life as we know it on this planet. Yet the political will to drive a sustainable transformation is absent so far. After twenty years of shockingly insufficient action, carbon emissions continue to rise.

An energy revolution is possible

A new report by Friends of the Earth International shows that an energy revolution, a complete transformation of the current unjust and dirty energy system, is possible.

The cost? In round numbers, most of the developing world - and more than half the world's population - could be renewably powered for an investment of around $5 trillion. Yes, it's a lot of money. But to put it in perspective, it's about one sixteenth of current world product of $80 trillion of so. So spread over 15 years, it would cost only about half a percent of the world's economic output each year.

Or to to put it another way, the personal fortunes of the 782 wealthiest people on the planet - many of them CEOs of major corporations - would be enough power Africa, Latin America and much of Asia with 100% renewable energy by 2030.

Perhaps even more startling, our research indicates that the wealth of the richest 53 people could power the whole of Africa with 100% renewable energy by 2030. This would lift millions of people out of poverty and be a major step forward in the fight against climate change.

Of course, we are not advocating that these 782 people give all their money specifically to fund renewable energy in the global South. Rather, this report clearly illustrates that the finance for an energy revolution certainly exists.

It is a gross injustice that 0.00001% of the global population holds the kind of wealth that could halt a climate disaster, but instead often exacerbates the problem and or benefit from dirty energy.

These findings should be a wake up call to policy makers and governments. There is an urgent need to address inequality and work on new and innovative ways to address the crises threatening our planet and its people. The finance to solve the climate crisis exists; it is political will that is lacking.

Inequality and climate change

Climate change is a symptom of the dysfunction of the current economic and political system. A sustainable transformation involves not just switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, but also a deeper societal transformation, which includes prioritizing the democratic ownership of renewable energy.

We live in a world of unacceptable and growing inequality where nearly 1.3 billion people - or a fifth of the world's population - lack access to electricity and 2.6 billion people lack access to clean cooking fuels. Meanwhile major corporations and the wealthiest 1% continue to pollute without limit.

Climate change is already wreaking devastation on communities and ecosystems around the world. Without urgent and drastic action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, we face far worse runaway climate change, with impacts that would dramatically overshadow anything we see today, and affect predominantly the poorer people and nations, which are the least responsible for climate change.

Energy production from fossil fuels is one of the main contributors to sky-high levels of carbon emissions, which must be tackled to stop a climate disaster. To create a climate-safe, just and sustainable world it is crucial we address inequality head on. This means transforming the way we produce, distribute and consume energy.

Kick starting an Energy Revolution

The wealth exists to transform our energy system. It will be social movements and people power that drive this long term and systematic change, by mobilising to change economic structures and dismantle corporate power.

Some important steps to kick-start this transformation are, firstly, governments must end current subsidies to fossil fuel companies and redirecting the funding to community and socially controlled renewable energy. G20 countries alone spend on average $452 billion per year on dirty fossil fuel subsidies. Switch that over to renewable energy, and you're up to the $5 trillion we need in just eleven years.

Developed country governments must also make the most drastic cuts in their carbon emissions. This includes repaying their climate debt for using far more than their fair share of atmospheric space by providing money -- without conditions -- to drive the energy transformation in developing countries.

We must reduce energy dependence and consumption especially in developed countries. The IEA estimates that four fifths of the potential to reduce energy demand in the buildings sector and half of the potential to reduce demand in industry remains untapped.

Stopping new dirty and harmful energy projects and planning a phase out of existing destructive energy sources is another common sense action that says, lets not make the problem worse. This means halting Canadian Tar Sands, Nigeria's harmful oil exploration and Australia's mega coalmines.

As climate negotiators, civil society and experts start preparations for the UN climate summit in Paris, millions of people around the world will take to the streets to demand climate justice.

We know we have the power to create a more just and more sustainable world. We know an energy revolution is possible.



The report: 'An Energy Revolution is Possible'.

Dipti Bhatnagar is Climate Justice & Energy Co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, based in Maputo. Twitter: @diptimoz

Sam Cossar-Gilbert is the Economic Justice Resisting Neoliberalism Program Coordinator for Friends of the Earth International based in Paris. Twitter: @samcossar


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