COP28 Targets Tripling Global Renewable Energy Capacity

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COP28 Targets Tripling Global Renewable Energy Capacity

COP28 is underway, and the target to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 is the main headline. For the plans not to end up as another empty promise, global leaders should work to establish the needed regulations, investments, mechanisms for equal distribution and adequate progress monitoring processes.

11 December 2023 – by Viktor Tachev   Comments (0)

The main highlight from the first days of COP28 UAE at Expo City Dubai is the target to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030. While a good start, question marks surrounding its scope and practical application remain. Furthermore, if the target isn’t backed by an agreement for phasing fossil fuels out, the target’s effect is likely to be limited. 

World Leaders at COP28 Target 11 TW of Renewable Energy Capacity by 2030

On the third day of the COP28 2023 climate summit, over 115 countries signed a pledge to triple the global renewable energy capacity to 11 TW by 2030. They also agreed to double energy efficiency gains to over 4% annually. Among them are the EU countries, the USA, Japan, Australia, Vietnam and COP28 host, the United Arab Emirates. Many nations, led by the EU, are pushing for the pledge to enter the summit’s final agreement.

The goal to triple renewable energy capacity was also agreed upon at the G20 Summit in India in September this year. It aligns with the International Renewable Energy Agency IRENA’s World Energy Transitions Outlook (WETO) on how to close the energy transition gap and stay on a 1.5°C pathway.

What Makes the Renewable Power Capacity Target Important?

“Achieving consensus from over 100 countries to significantly step-up renewables ambition sends an unprecedented market signal that solar and wind are unstoppable,” says Sonia Dunlop, CEO of the Global Solar Council.

According to Ember, tripling clean sources like wind generation and solar generation and doubling energy efficiency savings would cover 85% of the fossil fuel reductions needed by 2030 to meet global climate goals.

The IEA states that a tripling of renewables, driven by solar and wind, would be the single biggest action the world could take by 2030 to keep 1.5°C within reach.

Meanwhile, IRENA’s WETO describes energy production targets as a “necessary course correction” to align with a 1.5°C pathway.

However, aside from tripling clean energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency, the COP28 pledge also calls for “ramping up electrification and enhanced cooling approaches to enable phasedown of fossil fuels”. This is important, as it directly mentions the need to slash fossil fuel use. However, it does not mention any concrete targets.

According to experts, Asian countries might be among the driving forces behind the clean energy expansion.

Shradhey Prasad, project manager for the Global Wind Power Tracker at Global Energy Monitor, says, “The lion’s share of utility-scale solar and wind capacity under construction is in China, with 326 GW. It has 170% more than the rest of the world combined, and these will likely be operational in just one to two years’ time.” Prasad adds: “China, India, Brazil, Egypt and the Philippines stand out as leaders with the most utility-scale solar and wind under construction, with a combined capacity of 350 GW.” Prasad states that these developing nations make up over 65% of the total solar and wind capacity under construction. “Once complete, this will boost the global operating solar and wind capacity by more than 25%,” the expert adds.

Potential Loopholes

“With a quantifiable target of 11,000 GW of renewables capacity by 2030, this is a step up from vague net zero goals far in the future,” notes Joyce Lee, head of Policy and Projects at the Global Wind Energy Council. 

While the targets are ambitious and necessarily so, in its current form, the pledge is surrounded by uncertainty. In order to maximise its impact, global leaders would have to further clarify its scope, application and monitoring framework.

Addressing the Investment Gap

Up until Finance Day at COP28, leaders have managed to make over 40 pledges and gather USD 57 billion for different climate action initiatives. Among them is the USD 30 billion ALTÉRRA catalytic fund aiming to unlock private finance across the Global South. Multilateral Development Banks announced commitments they said will unlock USD 180 billion in climate finance. The loss and damage fund also initially managed to collect USD 725 million. With an additional USD 3.5 billion, replenishment pledges for the Green Climate Fund now total USD 12.8 billion. On energy, leaders agreed on USD 2.5 billion for renewables and USD 1.2 billion for methane emission reduction.

While the funds are a positive move, they fall short in many ways. Scientists from the London School of Economics and Political Science estimate the annual investment needs of emerging and developing countries (China excluded) at USD 1 trillion in 2025 and USD 2.4 trillion by 2030. The IEA estimates that to hit the goal of tripling renewables by 2030, the world would need USD 4.5 trillion per year. S&P Global Commodity sees 4.6 TW of solar and wind capacity to go online between now and 2030. This highlights the massive investment gap and the need for increased financial support for clean energy power plants.

While arguments exist that raising funds of such proportions might be challenging, experts note that there are solutions. Andreas Sieber, associate director of Global Policy at 350.org, says, “Meeting global renewable energy goals will require support for the Global South outside China. Debt cancellation, USD 100 billion yearly concessional loans for private financing and USD 200 billion in grants for robust public investment.” Sieber states: “Nobody can sincerely claim there isn’t enough money – merely a 2% tax on the wealth of the richest 3,000 people alone would yield a substantial USD 250 billion annually.”

Policy Ambition Key to Achieving the Target

The renewables target will require an unprecedented acceleration in deployment. By the decade’s end, the world will have to add over 1,000 GW of new renewable capacity per year. In comparison, 2023 will see the most significant clean energy capacity addition, with 440 GW (107 GW more than in 2022). To achieve the target, the world will have an even larger annual renewables capacity addition and maintain this course through 2030. Furthermore, the new renewable energy capacity has to be evenly spread across sectors, regions and countries.

Sam Onuigbo, former member of the Nigerian parliament and sponsor of Nigeria’s Climate Change Act, urges leaders to “pay attention to the inequitable distribution of renewable energy capacity”. He says that Africa is in “dire need of energy”, adding that there is an “opportunity to harness our vast natural potential to boost the generation and distribution of renewable energy to address our energy poverty while boosting our industrialisation”.

Onuigbo says, “We now want to see implementation, not just pledges, but words backed with action and structured to be equitable and non-exploitative of vulnerable communities and nations.” 

While the IEA sees the tripling of renewable energy capacity as “ambitious yet achievable,” it requires the need for stronger policy actions. Governments must ensure resilient technology supply chains, secure cost-effective system integration of solar photovoltaics and wind and manage renewables deployment in many emerging and developing economies.

“What matters now is that countries immediately turn this goal into policy, regulatory and investment action – from speeding up permitting for renewables projects to shifting public financing from fossil fuels into clean infrastructure,” explains Lee. 

Dunlop echoes similar sentiments. “An ambitious pledge doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t backed by legally binding actions and accountability.” She adds: “With the right policies in place, solar alone can in fact deliver nearly 8 TW of the 11 TW clean energy capacity by 2030 – which is more than double the current installed energy capacity in China and the US combined.”

Defining Renewable Energy Sources

It still remains unclear which energy sources would qualify as renewables. For example, the term can also cover questionable electricity generation sources like ammonia or industrial biomass, which won’t cut emissions and could risk causing biodiversity loss.

Nuclear can be another power source used to aid in achieving the target. In fact, 20 nations already signed a declaration for tripling nuclear power capacity by 2050. US climate envoy John Kerry described the energy source as critical for the world to reach “net zero”. However, any references to nuclear are for the post-2030 period.

“The reality is that the majority of nuclear power in the history of the US has never come online. The US has cancelled plans for 172 GW of nuclear capacity, more than all its operating, retired or prospective capacity combined at 130 GW,” explains Joe Bernardi, project manager of the Global Nuclear Power Tracker at Global Energy Monitor.

He notes that solar and wind provide a cheaper solution with a shorter time-to-market. 

“Much has been made of Vogtle 3 becoming the first US nuclear project to come online in seven years when it started this summer. But by the end of 2023, the US will have added 120 times as much utility-scale wind and solar capacity during the same period at a fraction of the cost,” he adds.

Under COP28’s Global Decarbonisation Accelerator program, 27 countries signed the UAE Hydrogen Declaration of Intent, agreeing to endorse a global certification hydrogen standard to speed up global trade in low-carbon hydrogen. However, concerns about whether green hydrogen development would become a higher priority over other renewables development remain apparent. 

For the target to make an actual difference in global decarbonisation efforts, solutions like biomass, ammonia and hydrogen for power generation should be auxiliary tools, not the central focus of the global energy system.

Getting the Renewable Energy Target Into the Final Text

Getting the deal into the final decision would require consensus among all participants of the COP28 summit, nearly 200 countries. China and India have signalled support for the goal, but neither has confirmed it would back it as an overall pledge so far.

Even if it does, getting the pledge into the summit’s final declaration is just the first step. The question is whether governments would be willing to pursue it. History shows that many of the promises made at COPs over the years have not come to fruition. And there is no certainty that this one won’t be just another one to add to that list.

To prove effective, the target should be accompanied by annual progress monitoring by international organisations and penalties for noncompliance if necessary.

“Countries should commit to an annual reporting process that will allow us to track progress in removing barriers and building renewables projects on a national and regional basis to close the global capacity gap to the 2030 target,” explains Joyce Lee.

A Promising Target, But Only a Start

The target itself is ambitious and can give rapid momentum to global decarbonisation efforts. However, it is just a sideline pledge that needs to be followed by ambitious political support on a national level, along with sufficient investments. According to IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera, the Nationally Determined Contributions round of updates in 2025 represents a prime opportunity to leap forward.

The prerequisites for achieving the renewable electricity target are all there. The IEA finds that the world’s manufacturing capacity for solar PV production segments will top 1 TW by 2024, with China leading this growth. Global leaders will need to capitalise on this to ensure the achievement of their targets.

“It is only half the solution. The pledge can’t greenwash countries that are simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production,” says Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands. “The High Ambition Coalition has been clear: building new renewables is vital but won’t be enough on its own. The COP president must deliver an outcome that achieves a genuine pathway to 1.5 that phases out fossil fuels.”

While the establishment of an ambitious target as a massive step forward, there are still many other variables at play. For the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28, to be a success, nations must make concrete pledges and address the major root of the problem: fossil fuels.

by Viktor Tachev

Viktor has years of experience in financial markets and energy finance, working as a marketing consultant and content creator for leading institutions, NGOs, and tech startups. He is a regular contributor to knowledge hubs and magazines, tackling the latest trends in sustainability and green energy.

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