Polycrisis spurring renewables, says new report

The interlinking energy, inflation and climate crises being experienced around the world are driving growth in electrification and renewables, according to a new report.

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Published by renewable energy think tank REN21, the 2023 Renewables Global Status Report (GSR) outlines how the ‘polycrisis’ has boosted the uptake in renewables. Rising energy and food prices - driven in large part by the war in Ukraine - combined with increased awareness of the impending climate threat, are proving powerful motivators for overdue change, according to REN21.

“It’s a typical story of challenges turned into opportunities,” said Rana Adib, REN21 executive director.

“The polycrisis made policymakers and the leaders of key energy-consuming sectors realise the benefits of renewables as a local energy source that can guarantee security of supply and stable costs. It’s what we’ve been saying for decades, so it’s unfortunate that it took a crisis for the world to finally turn to renewables to operate industries, buildings, transport and agriculture – a crisis that, in many places, pushed families into poverty, forced factories to cut production and slowed economic growth.”

The report points to several key policy packages from major international actors that boosted the demand for renewables throughout 2022, including the $500bn Inflation Reduction Act in the US, providing new spending, tax credits and incentives for energy demand sectors; the European Commission’s REPowerEU plan; and India´s comprehensive renewable hydrogen plans, which directly target heavy industry and transport. 

However, there is concern over the ongoing support for fossil fuels, which continue to enjoy enormous subsidies around the world. In the US, the Biden administration has granted approval for the controversial Willow oil project in Alaska, expected to create around 260m tons of greenhouse gases over its 30-year lifespan. Elsewhere, the Rosebank oil field off the coast of Shetland – the UK’s largest untapped field – is in line to enjoy a subsidy that will effectively see the taxpayer paying for up to 90 per cent of its development.

“By continuing to subsidise fossil fuels, policymakers are signalling that they are not serious about tackling the multiple economic, health and other crises we are facing,” said Arthouros Zervos, REN21 president.

“It shows they are being impractical about reducing high energy costs and the resulting impacts on everything we consume. Fossil fuel subsidies do not enable an even playing field for renewables to compete, and they unfortunately concentrate profits and benefits in the hands of a select few, instead of supporting greater equity for all.”