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Why Renewables Are Not Enough

The reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions that is needed in the coming decades would be hard to achieve in the best of times. But doing so while improving the quality of life of the world's fast-growing population – set to exceed ten billion by the end of this century – will require the commitment of a wide variety of actors.

NEW DELHI – At the United Nations in New York on April 22, world leaders ratified the global climate agreement reached in Paris last December. One hundred ninety-five countries, ranging from richest to poorest, have now agreed to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with the goal of not exceeding 1.5°C. They have also committed to “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to limit or reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. This is a major achievement, but it is far from sufficient.

In fact, even if all INDC targets were achieved, the world would still be heading toward eventual warming of some 2.7-3.4°C above pre-industrial levels. To keep warming well below 2°C, emissions in 2030 must be more than 30% below those envisaged in the INDCs.

This will be an enormous challenge, given the need for major strides in economic development over the same period. Before this century is over, we should seek to enable all the world’s people – probably more than ten billion by then – to achieve the standards of living currently enjoyed only by the wealthiest 10%. That will require a huge increase in energy consumption. The average African, for example, today uses about one-tenth of the energy used by the average European. But by 2050, we must reduce energy-related emissions by 70% from 2010 levels, with further cuts needed to achieve net zero emissions by 2060.

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