Phase Out of Fossil Fuels by 2050 is Possible and Profitable

A new report from Greenpeace says the world can be 100 percent renewable by 2050, and 85 percent renewable in just 15 years.  The 2015 Energy [R]evolution report, the latest in a series that has offered the most accurate projections of any major analysis, worldwide, says that for the first time, the path to 100 percent renewable is cost-neutral. In addition, no new technological advancements are needed, the report says.

Working with researchers at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Greenpeace published a report finding that “the phase out of fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy is not only needed, but can be achieved globally by mid-century.”  Kelly Mitchell, the climate and energy campaign director for Greenpeace USA, said, “In the US, we must prioritize keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground while accelerating the transition to clean energy like wind and solar. Doing so would both create new jobs and ensure a healthier planet for future generations.”

Under the scenario outlined in the report, global CO2 emissions would be stabilized by 2020 and would approach zero in 2050. Fossil fuels would be phased out, beginning with the most carbon-intensive sources. By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s electricity could come from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

According to the report:  100% renewable energy for all is achievable by 2050 and is the only way to ensure the world does not descend into catastrophic climate change. Dynamic change is taking place in the energy sector. Renewable energies have become mainstream in most countries, and prices have fallen  dramatically.  The report shows we could transform our energy supply, switching to renewables, which would mean a stabilization of global CO2 emissions by 2020, and bringing down emissions  towards near zero emissions in 2050.

Titled World Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook 2015—the report is the latest global energy analysis which shows that not only is the transition to cleaner energy sources possibly in the coming decades, the actual financial costs of taking on a such a massive transition would actually be cheaper over the coming decades than retaining the “dirty energy” status quo in the face of climate change.

Greenpeace admits the cost of its plan is “huge” but that “the savings are even bigger.” According to their estimates, the global average of additional investment needed in renewables is roughly $1 trillion a year until 2050. However, because renewables don’t require continuous fuel inputs, the savings over the same period would be $1.07 trillion a year, more than covering the costs of the required up-front investment.

Calling for a strategic phase-out of both fossil fuel and nuclear energy by mid-century, the Greenpeace plan targets the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels first—including lignite and coal—before moving on to less-polluting sources like oil and gas.  In the United States, a third of emissions come from the electricity sector, another quarter comes from transportation, and industry — largely through electricity use and fossil fuel consumption — accounts for another 20 percent.

“We must not let the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying stand in the way of a switch to renewable energy, the most effective and fairest way to deliver a clean and safe energy future,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo. “I urge all those who say ‘it can’t be done’ to read this report and recognize that it can be done and must be done for the benefit of people around the world.”

What’s more, the group says, this energy transformation would be a source of millions upon millions of jobs, more than enough to replace those lost by the shuttering of the coal, oil, and gas industries.

“Renewable energy definitely means more on the jobs front,” Rochon said. By 2030, renewable energy will account for 87 percent of the jobs in the energy sector, the report says.  The report says that nearly 20 million jobs in the renewable energy sector could be created between now and 2030, because of strong growth and investment in renewables. The solar photovoltaic (PV) industry alone, the research estimates, will provide 9.7 million jobs, equal to the number of people now working in the coal industry today. In the wind sector—which has shown unprecedented growth in recent years–job growth will continue grow to over 7.8 million jobs, twice as many as are employed in oil and gas today.

“The solar and wind industries have come of age, and are now cost competitive with coal,” said Greenpeace’s Sven Teske, the lead author of the report. “It is very likely they will overtake the coal industry in terms of jobs and energy supplied within the next decade. It’s the responsibility of the fossil fuel industry to prepare for these changes in the labor market and make provisions. Every dollar invested in new fossil fuel projects is high risk capital which could end up as stranded investment.”

The cost of developing renewable energy sources has fallen steeply in recent years, and, at this point, the fuel savings are “cost neutral” with investment in renewable energy, Rochon said. Amazingly, this is possible even though worldwide, governments pay $5.3 trillion annually to subsidize fossil fuels, according to a study by the International Energy Agency.

“Despite the fact that the playing field isn’t level and is tilted in the favor of fossil fuels, renewable energy sources are still winning,” Rochon told ThinkProgress.

Policies that support renewable energy, such as federal tax credits and net metering for residential solar installations, are considered critical drivers of renewable industries in the United States. The solar industry’s tax credit is set to expire at the end of 2016. None of the fossil fuel tax credits are set to expire at this time.

“A renewable energy future is within reach,” Rochon said. “It’s really up to our political leaders to say, yes, and we can do the work to get there.”