IPCC report highlights policy's role in advancing renewables

By Kris Bevill | May 11, 2011

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is preparing to release an exhaustive, 1,000-page report on May 31 that will highlight the significant global role renewables can play in providing sustainable energy and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the next 40 years. Several of the key findings of the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation were released May 9 in a summary after being approved by IPCC member countries. The summary is meant to provide governments and other parties with relevant policy information related to the various aspects of six renewable energy sources—bioenergy, including energy crops, residues and second-generation biofuels, solar energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean energy and wind energy.

The IPCC’s findings, which reflect the work of more than 120 researchers, show that public policy will be vital to the widespread advancement of renewable energy technologies. If the right policies are put in place, renewable energy could provide nearly 80 percent of the world’s energy supply by 2050, according to the report. Increasing the usage of renewable energies could also reduce global GHG emissions by up to 560 gigatonnes by 2050, which the IPCC said could contribute toward holding the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.

While the contribution of renewables to the overall energy supply is likely to increase in coming years regardless of policy support, the report concluded that history has shown supportive policy measures will help to increase renewables’ share of the market. Specifically, the report stated that policies which address the potential for renewable energy sources to reduce air pollution and improve public health will play an important role in the advancement of renewable energies, as will the monetization of GHG emissions.

“This report shows that it is not the availability of the resource, but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,” said Ramon Pichs, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, the group which authored the report and is responsible for assessing all areas of climate change mitigation for the IPCC.

IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said the goal of the IPCC is for the report to provide a scientific assessment of the potential of renewable energy sources to mitigate climate change. “This special report can serve as a sound knowledge basis for policymakers to take on this major challenge of the 21st century,” he stated.

Authors of the report noted that while some policies, such as fuel mandates, blending requirements or tax incentives for biofuels, have been shown to be effective in increasing the deployment of those technologies, policies must created to match the particular factors of the technology in question. Factors to consider include the level of technological maturity, affordable capital, ease of integration into the existing system and the local and national renewable energy resource base, according to the report. Policies should also be flexible to keep pace with the evolving industries they are created to serve. “Policy frameworks that are transparent and sustained can reduce investment risks and facilitate deployment of renewable energy and the evolution of low-cost applications,” the authors stated in the report.

To access the full summary, visit http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/report/srren-spm-fd4.