According to the just-released 2012 Renewable Energy Scorecard from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), global renewable energy production has shot up by nearly 275 percent in the past ten years. Global renewable energy investment soared to $257 billion in 2011.
In 2002 countries meeting in Johannesburg for the tenth anniversary of the first United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro committed to “substantially increase” the share of renewable sources to the global supply of energy. Reporting a 275 percent increase is good news as representatives prepare for the start of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development next week, but the stark fact is that it is only the beginning of a long road toward sustainability.
Jake Schmidt, NRDC’s director of international climate policy, says nations must “step up their game” in order to hit a target of 15 percent global production from renewable energy sources by 2020, a goal many clean energy economists and advocates say is required to get the world on the right path toward sustainability.
If the target remains distant it is still within reach, Schmidt says, but both companies and countries need reaffirm their serious commitment in Rio next week to accelerate clean energy production; “…the time is ripe,” Schmidt says, “The technologies are there and ready for prime time.” Ten years ago renewable energy resources were “basically a blip; unique niche technologies used in a couple of places.”
Even though G20 countries have invested more than $860 billion since 2002 in renewable energy development, the relative contribution of clean energy sources to world power supplies remains small in most countries. In the U.S., renewable energy production has grown 300 percent over the past decade, but still only accounts for 2.7 percent of total energy production.
“The ability to change those numbers pretty quickly is there,” says Daniel Kammen, director the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab at the University of California, Berkeley.
Both Schmidt and Kannen point to the unnecessary “boom-bust” cycles within the industry created from the lack of leadership in Congress and their inability to forge a long-term renewable energy policy that has dampened full-scale development of clean energy projects. Internationally, the G20’s “all-in” approach to fossil fuel subsidies remain five to six times that of support for renewable energy, making clear the need shift priorities toward sustainable energy development.
In the end, clean energy is the key to long-term economic stability, global security, environmental stewardship, and the alleviation of poverty in the developing world. The exponential growth of renewable energy over the past ten years demonstrates that with a combination of commitment and continued innovation, progress toward a sustainable new energy economy is within reach. But we’ve no time to dally.
Tom Schueneman is a freelance environmental writer and founder of GlobalWarmingisReal.com