Business | General

Renewables not growing rapidly enough to mitigate climate change

Fossil fuel subsides also seen as the biggest public enemy in the fight against climate change

  • By Samihah Zaman and Binsal Abdul Kader; Staff Reporters
  • Published: 12:53 January 17, 2013
  • Gulf News

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Abu Dhabi: Despite the positivity surrounding the current share share of renewables in the global energy mix, this share is not growing rapidly enough to mitigate climate change or provide universal access, a leading energy expert warned in the capital.

In the last five years, renewable sources, including wind, solar and biomass, made up 15 per cent of the global energy use by fuel.

“While this is viewed positively by many policymakers, we must look at energy use in a global context. In fact, the contribution of coal during the same period was 47 per cent, while natural gas contributed about 30 per cent”, said Dr Fatih Birol, chief economist and director of global energy economics at the International Energy Agency.

While renewable energy subsidies also encourage investment into the sector, these subsidies must be compared with subsidies for fossil fuels, Dr Birol warned.

“In Europe today, we have a price on carbon emissions of $10 per tonne (Dh36.7), which acts as a disincentive towards using carbonated fuels. However, the world as a whole provided fossil fuel subsidies of about $523 billion (Dh1.9 trillion) in 2011, which amounted to a subsidy of $110 (Dh 404) per tonne. These subsidies make fossil fuels artificially cheap in many countries,” he said.

Devastating

If the current global energy use patterns and fossil fuel subsidies persist, Dr Birol warned that the world would be “perfectly on track to achieve global warming of about six degrees Celsius in the next few decades, which will then be devastating for all”.

He was speaking on the second day of the sixth World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, which concludes on Thursday.

During his address, Dr Birol stressed that fossil fuel subsidies, including those implemented in the Middle East and the Gulf, were the biggest public enemy in the fight against climate change.

“Unfortunately, in the last year, there has been a 30 per cent growth in global fossil fuel subsidies, and a big portion stemmed from Middle Eastern nations,” he said.

Fossil fuel subsidies not only accelerate climate change, but also make fossil fuel prices artificially low.

“As a result, domestic oil consumption keeps increasing in oil producing countries, and limits oil exports band energy access that are required by emerging economies for development,” Dr Birol explained.

Fossil fuel subsidies also do not benefit the poor.

Low income

“Many governments say they subsidise fuel to protect the poor. But only eight per cent of the subsidies apply to 20 per cent of the lowest income earners. The people that benefit from these subsidies are actually medium and high income earners. What this means is that there are other less harmful ways to aid low income earners,” the official added.

In order to reduce climate change, he recommended that governments set a clear, reliable and predictable legal framework that would encourage investment into renewable energies, especially in fast-developing economies like China, India and nations in the Middle East.

“Renewables are the most important policy option in addressing climate change. If governments provide the right legal structure for renewable energies to become profitable, and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, we can expect strong growth in the sector. Only if this is done, renewables will become the second most used fuel globally by 2015,” Dr Birol said.

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