As the latest round of international climate change talks drew to a close in Marrakech last Friday, the implications of the recent election of Donald Trump as President were centre stage, both in the negotiating halls and the international press. Many are worried that the new US Administration will undermine implementation of the Paris Agreement, the first comprehensive international climate change treaty, which came into force just over a week ago.
During his campaign, the President-elect spoke of withdrawing the US from the treaty, revoking existing climate regulations put in place by President Obama, in particular the Clean Power Plan, and increasing spending on fossil fuels. There have even been suggestions that the US Environmental Protection Agency may be disbanded. With 2016 once again breaking temperature records, none of this bodes well for meeting the Paris targets, let alone achieving the more ambitious but necessary goal of keeping global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees.
Yet, while the future of the climate according to US politics may seem bleak and the planet continues to warm at unprecedented rates, we should not despair. There is a global energy revolution underway with a transition to clean energy that is accelerating and now seems unstoppable. Renewable electricity is now cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives in many parts of the world. In particular, the cost of solar, which makes up the majority of new electricity investment, including that generated by our community benefit society partners, has fallen by 10% each year since the 1980s and is on the cusp of being viable without government support. The costs of wind energy and energy storage are also falling rapidly. With the rise of smart technologies that will enable us to use energy more efficiently and effectively, it may be that most countries’ policies reflect an inevitable reality rather than actively driving change.
This should give hope to us all. While political change can certainly influence the pace of the transformation, simple economics and the ancillary benefits of climate action suggest that the presence of one climate change denier in a position of power is unlikely to lead to a disastrous change of direction.
Renewable energy is becoming more and more attractive to investors, and investment in renewables is increasing. 2015 set a record in our sector; globally investment in new renewable energy production was double that of new fossil fuel powered energy. As a result, over half of new energy production capacity built worldwide in 2015 was from renewables.
China invests more money than any other country in renewable energy – 36% of the world total – and more than twice as much the US. India has also adopted ambitious renewable energy targets. In several European countries, despite the scaling back of government support, renewables often produce more than half the electricity consumed. And across Africa, distributed renewable power is driving growth on a scale unseen in decades. The thing that unites these actions is that their primary justification is not necessarily climate change; instead air pollution, energy security and access, resource conservation and other factors are the main drivers.
We’re powering ahead in the UK too. The government has agreed to phase out coal, with the last coal-fired power station being closed by 2025. For the whole month of October, Scotland’s wind turbines provided enough electricity to power 87% of Scottish homes. On some days they provided more than the daily electricity consumption of the whole country. Across the UK, the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity is falling as the use of renewables increases; the most recent report on the UK energy mix finds that now more of our energy comes from solar than from coal.
Our community energy movement has made huge progress despite governments putting up barriers, and will continue to do so. We have seen the power of community action and leadership. There are over 500 active community energy generation groups in the UK, and our community benefit society partners alone generate enough electricity to power fifteen thousand homes.
We are in the midst of a global transition to green energy. States and companies are investing in renewables because they are economically as well as environmentally beneficial. This will continue whether or not President Trump withdraws the US from the Paris Agreement. We are past the point of needing policy to increase the use of renewables – the economics speak for themselves.
Mark Kenber, Managing Director, Mongoose Energy Supply