UN urges “complete transformation” of global energy system

UN urges “complete transformation” of global energy system


Climate change risks undermining global energy security unless renewable energy use is dramatically expanded, the UN warned on Tuesday, suggesting the fallout from the Ukraine conflict could accelerate the green transition.

Not only is the energy sector a major source of the carbon emissions driving climate change, it is also increasingly vulnerable to the changes that come with a warming planet, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization pointed out.

In its annual State of Climate Services report, the WMO warns that increasingly severe extreme weather events, droughts, floods and rising sea levels – all linked to climate change – are already making energy supplies less reliable.

For example, it pointed to a historic heatwave that led to massive power outages in Buenos Aires in January, while experts noted recently halted power production amid heatwaves and shrinking reservoirs in Europe and China.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas warned that “these types of events will become increasingly common in the future” noting that much of the world’s energy infrastructure today lies in areas vulnerable to climate change.

In 2020, a whopping 87 percent of global electricity generation from thermal, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants directly depended on freshwater for cooling, according to the WMO.

– ‘Change before our eyes’ –

But a third of fossil-fuelled power plants are located in areas of high water stress, as are 15 percent of existing nuclear power plants — a share that is expected to rise to 25 percent in the next 20 years.

Eleven percent of hydroelectric power plants are also located in areas with severe water stress, while more than a quarter of hydroelectric power plants are located in river basins struggling with water stress, the WMO said.

“Time is not on our side and our climate is changing before our eyes,” Taalas said.

“We need a complete transformation of the global energy system.”

Taalas pointed out that the energy sector itself is part of the problem, as it is the source of around three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions that alter the climate.

“Shifting to clean forms of energy production… and improving energy efficiency is critical,” he said.

However, he warned that achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is only possible “if we double the supply of low-emission electricity within the next eight years”.

– ‘A blessing’ –

The report, which WMO is producing with input from more than two dozen organizations, says that the shift to renewable energy would help alleviate growing global water stress, noting that the amount of water consumed by sun and wind is increasing is much lower than for traditional power plants.

The energy security crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and disrupted access to Russian gas has raised fears that countries will turn to dirty energy sources such as coal.

Taalas acknowledged that could be the case in the short term but said the war shows the dangers of depending on unreliable energy sources and will certainly accelerate the green transition.

“From a climatic point of view, the war in Ukraine can be seen as a blessing,” he said.

– Invest in Africa –

The WMO warned that countries’ current pledges to reduce carbon emissions “fall far short of what is needed” to meet the targets of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

According to the report, global investment in renewable energy “needs to triple by 2050 to move the world to net zero.”

In particular, it called for more investment in clean energy in Africa.

The continent, already facing massive droughts and other severe climate change impacts, has seen just 2 percent of clean energy investment over the past two decades.

And yet, with 60 percent of the world’s best solar resources, it has the potential to become a major player in solar power generation, the report says.

However, significant investments are required.

“Access to modern energy for all Africans requires an annual investment of US$25 billion,” says the report.

That corresponds to around one percent of global energy investments today.

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