Renewing the future and protecting the climate.

AuthorSawin, Janet L.

Editor's note: This article is adapted from the Worldwatch Institute report Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030 ( Janet Sawin is a World-watch senior fellow and coordinating lead author of the forth coming Special Report on Renewable Energy and Climate Change (IPCC). William Moomaw is professor of international environmental policy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, founding director of the university's Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, and also a coordinating lead author of the IPCC report.

Humanity stands at a cross-roads. One path leads to a severely deteriorating climate accompanied by major economic costs, while the other can provide energy services to all that are secure, clean, and sustainable. The positive outcome is within reach--if we act now and adopt policies to unleash the full potential of renewable energy resources that cost-effectively displace fossil fuels. Recent advances in technology and policy will allow renewable energy efficiency to meet most global demand for energy efficiency to meet most global demand for energy services while reducing carbon dioxide ([CO.sub.2]) emissions in the next two decades. Renewable energy technologies are rapidly scaling up and, in concert with efficiency gains, can achieve far greater emissions reductions than either could independently.

Annual global emissions must be reduced by 80 percent or more below 2000 levels by 2050 in order to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of [CO.sub.2] at a level that avoids dangerous anthropogenic climate change. This requires compounded annual reductions of 4 percent. However, this goal is not likely to be achieved if our only measure of success is emissions reductions; climate change is fundamentally a development issue, not a pollution problem. Emissions target-setting has failed to achieve needed reductions in energy-related [CO.sub.2] because it treats only symptoms and not underlying causes of climate change.

What is needed is a transformation of the entire global energy system. A combination of political will and the right policies can get the world on track to mitigate climate change in the near term while also meeting universal demand for energy services, including energy access for the world's poorest, thereby boosting the global economy, bolstering energy security, reducing the threat of conflict over energy resources, and improving the natural environment and human health.

Promise and Potential

Between 1990 and 2007, world GDP increased 156 percent while global energy demand rose 39 percent, pushing up global [CO.sub.2] emissions by 38 percent. Were it not for advances in energy efficiency--gains achieved without aggressive policies--the increase in energy use and associated emissions would have been much greater. Even so, more than half of the energy we consume does not provide us with useful services.

The potential to further improve global energy efficiency is enormous. In the United States alone, technologies to recover energy from waste heat, manure, food industry waste, Land-fill gas, and...

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