Dozens of clean energy pledges expected at UN renewables meet

Nine-tenths of humanity breaths dirty air; switching to solar and wind power can fix that

A file picture of the Huaibei coal-fired power plant in Haibei city, Anhui province, China. EPA
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UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Friday that 90 per cent of humanity was breathing polluted air and urged nations to stop using coal and other dirty fuels and switch to solar, wind and other types of clean power.

At high-level talks in New York, the secretary general said some 8 million people die prematurely each year due to polluted air and that switching to carbon-free power could be the “difference between life and death”.

Renewable energy already makes up 29 per cent of global power generation, he added. At the talks, nations were expected to unveil 30 new pledges for investment in clean power and putting more of humanity on the grid.

“Investing in clean, affordable energy for all will improve the well-being of billions of people,” Mr Guterres said.

“It can create the green jobs that we urgently need for Covid-19 recovery. And it is the single most important solution to avert climate catastrophe.”

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, most world governments have pledged to keep global warming to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial times and to strive to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C.

The planet has so far warmed by about 1.2°C and is headed for 2.7°C this century — raising the risk of wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes and other extreme weather that can drive conflicts over scarce natural resources.

“Without deep and rapid decarbonisation of our energy systems over the next 10 years, we will not reach the Paris Agreement goal,” said Mr Guterres.

“Billions of people will be condemned to more poverty and more ill-health while the ecosystems we all rely on collapse.”

The high-level session on energy was part of the annual UN assembly, which this year focussed on tackling the coronavirus pandemic and raising targets for cutting pollution and keeping global temperature rise under control.

It came ahead of the critical COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, which starts on October 31 and aims to spark much more ambitious global climate action — and the money to pay for it — as scientists warn that global warming is spiralling out of control.

Ahead of the talks, UNDP administrator Achim Steiner said the switch to renewable energy should also be rolled out across the developing world, where close to 760 million people still lack access to electricity.

“Remarkably, 1 in 10 people across the world cannot flick a light switch on in their homes in 2021, yet the burgeoning renewable energy revolution will bring power to millions of homes, hospitals and schools for the first time ever,” said Mr Steiner.

There have been some gains in climate change efforts at the UN’s annual jamboree.

US President Joe Biden pledged to double funds by 2024 to $11.4 billion per year to help poor countries tackle climate change, China said it would stop building coal-fueled power stations abroad and Turkey announced plans to ratify the 2015 Paris climate deal.

Mr Guterres said he was “encouraged” by the pledges, but that “we still have a long way to go to make” the talks in Scotland a “success and ensure that it marks a turning point in our collective efforts to address the climate crisis”.

Updated: September 24, 2021, 2:54 PM