The transition to cleaner energy is unstoppable

The International Energy Agency predicts that global investment in renewable energy technologies and infrastructure will reach $2 trillion this year, twice the amount invested in gas, oil and coal. (Photo: Kindel Media via Pexels)

The transition to renewable energy is accelerating—no matter how much the fossil fuel industry and its supporters oppose it. It’s high time. I am one of many who have been warning for decades about the consequences of burning vast quantities of dirty fuels.

Of course, we need to do much more if we are to avoid worsening the impacts of climate change that we are already witnessing: heat domes and other extreme weather events, floods, droughts, forest fires, migration crises, species extinctions, water shortages, rising sea levels, and more — not to mention the health problems associated with pollution.

The good news is that the transformation is already underway. The International Energy Agency expects global investment in renewable energy technology and infrastructure to reach $2 trillion this year, twice as much as for gas, oil and coal. Last year also saw significant growth. According to Reuters, “total investment in renewable energy and networks will overtake fossil fuels for the first time in 2023.”

The good news is that the transformation process is already underway.

A report by London-based energy think tank Ember found that “renewables will generate a record 30% of global electricity in 2023, driven by growth in solar and wind.” Solar production rose by 23%, wind by 10% and fossil fuels by just 0.8%. “The report analyses electricity data from 215 countries, including the latest 2023 data for 80 countries that account for 92% of global electricity demand.”

The share of renewable energy could have been higher, but drought caused a decline in hydropower production, which was partially replaced by coal power in China, India, Vietnam and Mexico – the main reason for the small increase in fossil fuel production.

According to the report, “the latest projections provide some confidence that 2024 will see a new era of decline in fossil fuel production, with 2023 likely to be the peak year for energy sector emissions.”

“There is an unprecedented opportunity for countries that choose to lead the clean energy future,” said Ember’s Global Insights Program Director Dave Jones. “Expanding clean electricity not only helps decarbonize the power sector. It also provides the supply growth needed to electrify the entire economy; and that is a real game-changer for the climate.”

Another sign of the end of the fossil fuel era is the growing number of countries producing energy from renewable sources.

Despite claims of interest in fossil fuels, Ember also found that fossil gas is not replacing coal. “There’s going to be a bit of a rude awakening about gas,” Jones said. “The gas industry was really waiting for coal to go down because that was supposed to create a new market for it, but really… wind and solar are replacing coal, and they’re replacing gas.”

Research from the David Suzuki Foundation confirms that increased fracking of natural gas in British Columbia and Alberta is bad for the climate or the economy — not to mention drought-stricken water resources.

Another sign of the end of the fossil fuel era is the number of countries producing energy from renewable sources. According to the International Energy Agency and the International Renewable Energy Agency, seven countries — Albania, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Iceland, Nepal, Paraguay and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — now generate 99.7% of their electricity from geothermal, hydro, solar and/or wind energy.

“Another 40 countries will get at least half of their electricity from renewable sources in 2021-2022, including 11 in Europe” Euro News reports. “Others, such as Germany and Portugal, are able to operate 100 percent on wind, water and sun for short periods.”

Accelerating change is good for the economy, climate, human health, air, land and water.

An earlier report by the David Suzuki Foundation found that Canada can achieve reliable, affordable and 100 per cent emissions-free electricity by 2035 “without relying on expensive, sometimes unproven and dangerous technologies such as nuclear power or natural gas with carbon capture and storage.”

The increasing electrification of the world economy means increased demand, so saving energy is also important. We need to use and waste less.

The latest research clearly shows that the world is well on its way to transitioning away from fossil fuels — but we need to act even faster to avoid growing weather chaos and catastrophe. We have already locked away vast amounts of greenhouse gases that will remain in the atmosphere for decades, so the impacts will continue, but we can slow and ultimately reverse this trend.

Accelerating change is good for the economy, the climate, human health, and the air, land, and water. A cleaner, better world is in sight, but we must leave fossil fuels in the ground and in the past.