Guest Contribution

100% Renewable Energy – The Only Option for a Common Future

We are on the verge of a profound and urgently necessary shift in the way we produce and consume energy. This shift moves the world away from the consumption of fossil resources that cause climate change toward cleaner, and more renewable forms of energy. Since 2013, the world is adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined.

While the global renewable energy uptake is highly encouraging, it would be an illusion to believe that simply fuelling the same system with different resources will put us on a path of preserving the planet for current and future generations.

Impacts of climate change are already being acutely felt by people around the world, particularly those who have contributed least towards the problem. The effects of climate change are making it extremely difficult to ensure “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland 1987). The effects of climate change threaten people’s subsistence rights (right to food, water, shelter) and people cannot think and act long term if their daily life is an existential struggle.

Therefore the question is: Do we make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy on our own terms, in ways that maximize the benefits to us today and to future generations, or do we let this opportunity pass us by and suffer the economic and social shocks that rising prices and market volatility will create—as it has done so often in the past?

Solutions exist

The good news is that solutions exist. The popularity of renewable energy is already skyrocketing as millions of people around the world use it to generate electricity, to heat and cool buildings and to produce a variety of cleaner vehicle fuels. From North America to Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania, communities, islands, cities and countries demonstrate that making the transition to 100% Renewable Energy (RE) is a political decision and an ethical imperative – the technical options already exist.

From Vancouver in Canada, to Hawaii and Georgetown, Texas in the US, all the way to Coffs Harbour in Australia: in recent weeks, local governments around the world are making news by setting 100% renewable energy targets. Nations like Costa Rica that is powered by 100% Renewable Energy since January 2015 and Scotland that is on course to meet its 50% renewable electricity target ahead of schedule, prove that achieving this ambitious goal is viable. And not only governments show that 100% RE is the new normal: Global companies like Facebook, Google, Ikea and Apple foster the transformation toward 100% RE for business reasons. A group of 43 CEOs claim that climate action “is their business” as well and faith groups like a group of Catholic bishops call for 100% Renewable Energy, the Pope plans for a landmark climate change-themed conference and Jordan is about to go solar in a big way by starting to power all of its mosques with solar energy. Further studies that outline the feasibility of 100% RE, like the one recently published by 70 Canadian academics, highlight the scientific viability of this trend.

Whilst these examples are inspirational, the move towards a sustainable 100% RE system is still taking place in scattered constituencies around the globe. To ensure that we leave a habitable planet for our current and future generations, the transition toward 100% RE must follow a universally cohesive people-centered, community-driven and future-just approach. Rather than fueling the same system with different resources, we must transform our societies to ensure sustainable access to energy services for all. Examples from around the world show that community-driven solutions enable our societies to convert our energy production and supply industry at the required speed and scale.

Now is the time to act

Policy makers are currently adopting measures that are nowhere near proportional to the urgency to act. The lack of progress today is alarming, given that the window of opportunity to prevent climate change and other energy-rooted crises is closing rapidly. Decisions taken by politicians today have a major influence on the world of tomorrow. Investments into fossil fuels today will lock us and future generations into a dangerous system, foreclosing the potential of developing countries to leapfrog an intractable fossil-fuel based economy and build a future-just and sustainable energy system.

We know 2015 is a crucial year. Leaders have a choice between a future where healthy communities are powered by clean, renewable energy or a future darkened by air pollution, limited by centralised energy systems and damaged by the effects of climate change. The onus, however, lies not only with leaders but also with those able to influence leaders. At present, fossil fuel lobbies are better organized and better funded than the renewable energy sector and sustainable development advocates. This is often stated as an immutable truth, an unfortunate, unchangeable situation. It isn’t – it is simply the current status quo, which can be altered if funds and talent are raised to provide a strong, coherent, and continuously convincing counter-narrative to that dominating the interest capacity of the political leadership.

Academics are grappling with the tensions between long-term and short-term needs. In practice, immediacy often trumps long-term needs but placing the debate in a human rights perspective can be enlightening. Professor Simon Caney, Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations, examines the relationship between Human Rights and Climate Change, discussing concerns surrounding our current climate responsibilities and where we should set our priorities for the future. The Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice (MRFCJ) has developed seven principles of Climate Justice that inform the foundation’s work. Their basic premise is that all climate change action must adhere to the human rights framework. It is about giving people of today the tools and the political voice and future generations the opportunities and the resources to lead lives in a safe and fulfilling environment rather than acting in a way that forecloses their future.

100% RE is therefore a matter of justice for today’s and future generations. It is a matter of equal access to common resources which we have enjoyed and inherited from our ancestors. Transitioning to 100% RE is a moral and ethical obligation.

This was a joint article written by Anna Leidreiter and Alice Vincent. About the authors:

Anna Leidreiter, Senior Programme Manager Climate and Energy

Anna Leidreiter joined the World Future Council in October 2010. As Senior Programme Manager for Climate Energy, she carries out policy research and develops advocacy campaigns with the climate energy team. In her main capacity Anna works on enabling policy frameworks for a global energy transition towards 100% renewable energies as well as a transformation of urban areas towards regenerative systems. Besides that, Anna is a founding member of an energy cooperative in the North of Germany where she coordinates the media and communication work. Anna holds a Masters degree in International Development Studies focused on Environmental Governance from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Alice Vicent, Senior Policy Officer – Future Justice

Alice Vincent has been with the WFC since 2010, having just returned from taking a year out of her policy work to complete an MSc in International Public Policy at UCL. She has worked with the Future Justice team on the High Commissioner for Future Generations campaign throughout the Rio+20 process both in Rio and New York where she was also the Head of the Governance Task-force of the UN Major Group for Children & Youth.

Posted by Future Justice on 27 April 2015

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