The International Renewable Energy Agency hosted a conference in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where world leaders underscored the need for immediate and collective action to curb CO2. It is first and foremost a grassroots effort that is now possible because technology is advanced and affordable. International cities, meanwhile, are on board, emphasizing that the most progressive high-tech companies are considering “people, profits and planet” before they are choosing where to locate.
“The beauty of renewable energy is that anyone can execute this strategy,” says Iceland’s former president, Olafur Grimsson. “Even if governments do nothing, citizens can take the matter into their hands. It is possible for us to meet in Paris.”
Consider the case of the UAE, which is rich with two assets: oil and sunshine. The country is home to several solar plants, hosting one of the world’s largest: the Noor Abu Dhabi, cranking out more than 1,100 megawatts of power — a facility comprised of 3.2 million solar panels that connect to the grid. At a cost of $870 million, it can deliver electricity to 90,000 people.
The plant is generating electricity at an unsubsidized cost of 2.94 cents per kilowatt-hour. That is less than the price of producing power from coal, natural gas and oil, which generally cost 4-6 cents a kWh. The UAE has said that its goal is to generate half of its electricity with clean energy by 2050 — a move that will help it reduce its carbon footprint by 70%.
This is Exhibit One in making the business case for green energy, says President Grimsson, who says his country was once dependent on fossil fuels but produces almost all of its electricity from hydropower and geothermal energy. “It is in the interest of profits to fulfil the Paris agreement,” he says.
In the case of the UAE, it has a concentrated solar farm that is a joint venture among the local government, Japan’s Marubeni Corp. and China’s Jinko Solar Holding — all supported by power purchase agreements to assure the developer that its project will remain viable. A low-interest loan got the deal up-and-going.
Economic transitions, invariably, create winners and losers. And those at risk are financing the studies to undermine the peer-reviewed science. But the effects of global warming are becoming real and are most notably felt by low-lying nations: Southern Africa, for instance, is undergoing droughts that are leading to food shortages.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change as well as the Global Change Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, temperature increases in southern Africa could hit 5-6 degrees Celsius by century’s end based on global emissions.
“Climate deniers don’t exist anymore,” says Francesco La Camera, the director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency.”I do not know what interest they are defending. There is no science that backs them up.”
Moreover, if an oil-dependent country can turn to renewables, others can do the same: Norway and Scotland, for example, produce almost all of their electricity from green energy: hydro and wind, respectively. That shift to cleaner energy is compelled by economics — or acting in the national interest: study-after-study has concluded that higher temperatures lead to adverse weather patterns that erode national wealth.
Last year, the United States went through 14 separate billion-dollar disasters, says NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. They each cost more than $1 billion. But the long-term consequences are even more staggering, says the International Monetary Fund: temperature rises of 0.04 degrees Celsius reduce gross domestic product 7% by 2100. If such increases are kept to 0.01 degrees Celsius per year — in line with Paris —losses are limited to about 1%.