1 November 2016
Mitigation Update: Technological Progress Fuels Renewables Growth
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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Research and development have paid off with strong growth in the renewable energy sector, which promises to contribute greatly to climate change mitigation.

“International cooperation and partnerships are essential to accelerate universal access, renewable energy and energy efficiency development.” Many big businesses are setting emission reduction targets, but more is needed to reach Paris Agreement goals.

31 October 2016: With a focus on ‘Science, Technology & Innovation for Better Life,’ the Seoul Science and Technology (S&T) Forum discussed how technological advances can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including climate change-related objectives. This theme has been amplified by various news items and reports over the past couple weeks, especially in the renewable energy sector.

Organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the National Research Council of Science & Technology (NST) on 27-28 October 2016, in Seoul, Republic of Korea, the Forum considered: government-funded research institutes; science, technology and innovation overseas development assistance (ODA); and climate technology cooperation. In the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar emphasized that “committing government funding for research and development will be an investment for a better future….” As detailed below, research and development have paid off with strong growth in the renewable energy sector, which promises to contribute greatly to climate change mitigation. [ESCAP Press Release]

Big Developments in Wind, Biofuels on Horizon

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has released two ‘Innovation Outlooks,’ one of which is predicting a possible 650% increase in offshore wind capacity by 2030. ‘Innovation Outlook: Offshore Wind’ sees technological advancements, such as larger turbine blades and floating turbines, and a decline of approximately 57% in the cost of electricity generated as driving an offshore wind boom. IRENA predicts about 100 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity will be installed by 2030, up from 13 GW in 2015. Wind farms at the scale envisioned by this Outlook have the potential to replace conventional forms of electricity generation and provide reliable, emission-free power. [IRENA Press Release] [IRENA Publication Webpage] [Innovation Outlook: Offshore Wind]

According to IRENA, to reduce global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and avert the worst effects of climate change, advanced liquid biofuels must be a part of the equation. In ‘Innovation Outlook: Advanced Liquid Biofuels,’ IRENA considers these biofuels as a practical alternative for powering airplanes, ships and heavy freight trucks. A number of promising developments in the sector are outlined in the report. Noting that transport is responsible for a third of global energy use and a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, yet viable climate-friendly alternatives are limited, the report advocates decisive policy actions in support of advanced biofuels, which are now reaching commercialization after decades of research and development. [IRENA Press Release] [IRENA Publication Webpage] [Innovation Outlook: Advanced Liquid Biofuels]

In addition to climate change benefits, switching to cleaner energy forms for our transport systems can have a large, positive impact on air pollution, and, subsequently, our health. The effects of air pollution are the subject of a new World Health Organization (WHO) campaign, ‘BreatheLife: Clean air. A healthy future.’ However, as a recent report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) reminds, there are many other transportation solutions, besides switching out fuel, that improve air quality, mitigate climate change and improve health. The ‘Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling’ urges countries to put 20% of their transport budgets toward walking and cycling infrastructure, because, as UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim notes, “Designing transport systems around cars puts more vehicles on the road, increasing both [GHG] emissions and deadly air pollution. We must put people, not cars, first in transport systems.” [UN Press Release] [UN Environment Press Release]

Clean air is also the focus of a report of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which reveals that almost one in seven of the world’s children, 300 million, live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution – six or more times higher than international guidelines. UNICEF urges world leaders attending COP 22 to take four urgent steps in their countries to protect children from air pollution. [UNICEF Press Release] [Clean the Air for Children] [UN Press Release]

Multilateral, Government Support Critical for Progress

Another recent event, a high-level seminar organized by the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the UN Office of High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) and the Government of Austria, focused on ‘Accelerating SE4All in Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) through Innovative Partnerships.’ Held from 24-25 October 2016, in Vienna, Austria, the event highlighted that “international cooperation and partnerships are essential to accelerate universal access, renewable energy and energy efficiency development” in LLDCs. [UNIDO Press Release] [Event Webpage]

However, as many recent examples demonstrate, it is not only in LLDCs where cooperative international institutions, such as intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), multilateral development banks (MDBs) or global partnerships, are forging a path for sustainable energy development.

One important role multilateral public institutions play is helping the demonstration and deployment of the first prototypes of good ideas and technologies. The Asian Development Bank (ADB), for instance, has inaugurated one of Myanmar’s first solar photovoltaic (PV) mini-grid systems, which is the first to have a pay-as-you-go system in the country. Such systems can help Myanmar electrify the remaining two-thirds of its nearly 64,000 villages without increasing emissions. Financed by the Government of Japan through the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, the project is also providing training on designing and implementing off-grid, small-scale renewable energy systems. [ADB Press Release]

The World Bank is also supporting solar pilot projects. In Bangladesh, the Second Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development (RERED II) project is installing solar-powered irrigation pumps as a clean energy alternative to diesel-powered pumps. In addition to being emission-free, the solar systems will help the Government of Bangladesh reduce expenditures on diesel subsidies. [World Bank Press Release]

A first-of-its-kind-project in Africa, supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB) Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA), is promoting innovation in cooling technology by using cold ocean water to air condition buildings. Given its high dependence on imported petroleum to fuel its grid, the Government of Mauritius is looking toward innovative low-carbon technology to lower emissions and meet its energy needs. With its newly introduced marine engineering platform – the largest of its kind – the Deep Ocean Water Applications (DOWA) project in Mauritius will conduct marine surveys to understand the geomorphology of the seabed and the seawater properties. The surveys will allow the laying of offshore pipes to create the seawater cooling system, which is expected to free up 26 megawatts (MW) of electric power capacity and reduce CO2 emissions by 40,000 tons per year. [AfDB Press Release]

MDBs have also taken an active role in aiding countries with their energy strategies and planning. For example, AfDB has announced the validation of Zimbabwe’s SE4All Action Agenda, the document that will guide the country’s work toward its realization of the three SE4All goals, which align closely with the targets under SDG 7: universal energy access; doubling the global rate of energy efficiency improvement; and increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. AfDB serves as the SE4All Africa Hub, which assists African countries with their SE4All Action Agenda development. [AfDB Press Release]

Corporations Also Mitigating, Still More Action Needed

A recent report from CDP and We Mean Business shows that multilateral institutions are not the only ones taking big steps toward a low-carbon world. Big business is setting emission reduction targets. Titled ‘Out of the Starting Blocks: Tracking Progress on Corporate Climate Action,’ the report looks at 1,089 companies over five years and finds that a group of 62, which each decreased their emissions by 10% or more and increased revenues, managed to collectively reduce emissions by 26% while their overall revenue increased 29%. The rest of the companies over the same period realized a 6% decrease in revenue while their emissions rose 6%.

While 85% of the businesses have at least one target in place to reduce emissions, achieving those targets will only get them 25% of the way toward the levels needed to accomplish the Paris Agreement objective of keeping global average temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The report covers 2015 actions. Since the Paris Agreement was only adopted at the end of that year, CDP notes that it is expecting many businesses to recalibrate their plans to align with the Agreement’s goals. In addition to the report, CDP also launched its Climate A List for this year, which highlights companies that have taken significant climate action. [CDP Press Release] [Out of the Starting Blocks: Tracking Progress on Corporate Climate Action]

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