Countries may need to rethink net-zero targets amid worsening climate change, Irena warns

There will have to be much higher adoption of renewables in G20 countries, the agency's deputy director general says

Irena's deputy director general Gauri Singh expects climate finance to play a very important role in discussions at the Cop28 summit. Leslie Pableo / The National
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Countries may have to rethink and potentially bring forward their net-zero targets if the effects of climate change are worse than expected, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s deputy director general.

The US, the UK, Canada and Japan aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. China has committed to net zero by 2060 while India has committed to reaching that goal by 2070.

If things are going “much worse” than what is anticipated, everyone will have to “jump into the act and re-look at where we are going”, Gauri Singh told The National on the sidelines of the 26th meeting of the Irena Council in Abu Dhabi.

“No one is an expert on how the weather and the climate will behave … no one wants to be caught in a situation where the world becomes unlivable,” she said.

Ms Singh’s comments came in response to a Reuters report last week that said that India wants to push developed nations to become carbon-negative rather than carbon-neutral by 2050.

India, which has argued that such a move would allow emerging economies more time to use fossil fuels, is set to make its proposal at the Cop28 climate summit in UAE in November.

There will be much higher adoption of renewables happening in the G20 countries, some of the largest consumers of energy, in this decade, Ms Singh said.

“We are hoping is that it's also a decade where strong foundations are built in a larger number of countries. [Once] you have a good foundation, you can grow exponentially from there,” Ms Singh said.

Annual renewable power capacity must add an average of 1,000 gigawatts annually by 2030 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, Irena said in a report in June.

At the same time, global investments in energy transition technology must quadruple to $35 trillion.

A record 295 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity was added globally in 2022, up about 10 per cent from the year before, according to the Abu Dhabi-based agency.

However, most of the growth was concentrated in the US, the EU and China, highlighting a growing disparity in clean energy adoption worldwide.

Developing and emerging economies are confronted with the challenge of having to provide basic, modern energy services to billions of people who currently lack access, all while actively engaging in the global shift towards low-carbon energy systems.

“There's no one solution for this. There never is,” Ms Singh said.

In the run-up to Cop28, Irena has been calling on world leaders to work towards the target of tripling renewable energy capacity to 11,000 gigawatts by 2030.

Earlier this year, members of the G7 and G20 agreed to significantly scale up renewable energy, in line with the agency’s recommendations.

“You have to keep pushing the envelope because these are not things that will happen just because someone is saying something. It's not that they will agree to it or [that] a solution will emerge,” Ms Singh said.

“But, what we're seeing globally is a huge move to reform multilateral development banks (MDBs),” she added.

MDBs, usually chartered by a group of developed nations, encourage economic development in poorer countries.

“I definitely see climate finance playing a very important role in the discussions that happen at Cop28,” said Ms Singh.

“The technology is there. The industries that can set it up and the independent power producers who can put it [projects] on the ground are ready and they are willing,” she said.

Updated: October 20, 2023, 10:08 AM