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IRENA calls on world leaders to urgently close the renewable deployment gap

Renewables are the backbone of the energy transition and a viable climate solution, reminded the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) during COP27. Yet, according to its latest report Renewable Energy Targets in 2022: A guide to design, out of the 183 parties to the Paris Agreement with renewable energy components in their Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs), only 143 have quantified targets with the vast majority focusing on the power sector and only 12 countries had committed to a percentage of renewables in their overall energy mixes.

And indeed, such a shift to renewables is needed now more than ever after a record-hot summer worldwide which brought droughts and food crises in many countries, the high energy prices that are affecting households and companies and the war in Ukraine. IRENA noted that as of 2020, some 2.4 billion people still relied on traditional biomass for cooking and 733 million people remained without access to electricity. So, a change is imperative. And, the collective level of energy transition ambition to date is not enough despite the Glasgow Climate Pact to upgrade 2030 targets in national pledges.

“At a time when we desperately need to see rapid implementation, I call on world leaders to urgently close the renewable deployment gap in pursuit of resilience, energy security and inclusive economies,” said IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera. “IRENA’s report is a warning to the international community telling them that renewables offer a readily achievable climate solution but require immediate action. Climate pledges must enhance ambition to unlock the full and untapped potential of renewables.”

“There is a need for real urgency. Despite some progress, the energy transition is far from being on track. Any near-term shortfall in action will further reduce the chance of keeping 1.5°C within reach. Under the COP27 slogan together for implementation, we must move from promises to concrete solutions to benefit people and communities on the ground.”

Filling the gap

IRENA’s new analysis finds that by 2030, countries are targeting to reach 5.4 terawatts (TW) of installed renewable power capacity. This would only be half of the 10.8 TW of installed capacity needed according to IRENA’s 1.5°C Scenario. With a bit of effort, this gap could be filled, if we take into consideration that even during challenging times like during the pandemic and the consequent supply chain disruptions the world added almost 261 gigawatts (GW) of renewables each year, which is less than what is needed now to achieve our 2030 targets.

Since COP26 in November 2021, 24 countries updated their NDCs (up to 16 October 2022), 8 out of which have updated them following the Glasgow Climate Pact. Despite, renewable energy being one of the key components of the energy transition, not all countries have included targets for their deployment in their NDCs. The 143 countries that have a quantified target focus mainly on power and only 31 of them have targets for heating and cooling, transport or cooking. Furthermore, of the 61 Parties with targets defined as a share of the power mix, the majority committed to a share between 25 per cent and 59 per cent while only 12 committed to shares between 90 per cent to 100 per cent.

Albania: the leader in CEE

In Central and Eastern Europe, none of the countries in the report has committed to over 50 per cent, with the exception of Albania. Albania expects to see 54.4 per cent of renewables in the final energy demand in 2030, of which 178.1 per cent (percentages over 100 are due to the export capacity) in the electricity sector, 34.6 per cent in the transport one and 16.6 per cent for heating and cooling.

Some countries have poorer targets, like Czechia which only expects 22 per cent of RES in the final consumption by 2030, followed by Hungary with 21 per cent and Slovakia with 19.2 per cent.

Then, there are countries like Moldova and Serbia where the national targets are still under discussion. In Serbia, Dubravka Djedovic was appointed as the new Mining and Energy Minister and it is yet to see how she will address the energy sector reform.

Finally, Turkey has already exceeded its target of 38.8 per cent of power generation from renewables set out under the Eleventh Development Plan (2019- 2023). According to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources Strategic Plan (2019), the installed capacity of wind power will reach 11,883 MW, solar power will reach 10,000 MW and geothermal and biomass power will reach 2,884 MW by 2023.

IRENA noted also that commitments are being made outside the NDC process and beyond the 2030 time horizon. As of October 2022, 137 countries, 116 regions and 237 cities had made net zero commitments for 2050 as reported by the Net Zero Tracker. Private companies have also made such pledges: almost 700 out of the 2,000 largest publicly traded companies globally have or are considering a net zero target. However, many of them have not backed up these targets with operational plans and strategies.

Phasing out coal is key for the transition to a low-carbon future

The International Renewable Energy Agency also underlined that transitioning to a low-carbon future requires not only scaling up renewables but also phasing out (or phasing down) existing carbon-intensive generation, such as from coal, natural gas and oil. Within the CEE region, Poland and Ukraine are among the top 20 countries in the world that produce electricity using coal and they have yet to follow up their pledge with specific targets, timelines for phase-out or plans at the national level.

Overall, most of the countries in CEE will phase out coal after 2030. Bulgaria, where the share of coal in the energy mix was 37.2 per cent in 2021, committed to exiting coal by 2038 or 2040. Croatia (9.7 per cent), by 2033, Czechia (40 per cent) by 2040, Montenegro (40.3 per cent) by 2035, Romania (18.3 per cent) by 2032 and Slovenia (24.6 per cent) by 2033.

On the right track, there is Greece whose share of coal amount to 12.4 per cent of the energy mix. Lignite-fired power plants will be ceased by 2023. Only one plant will remain until 2028, which is currently being constructed and whose fate is unclear. Also, Hungary (8.5 per cent) moved the coal phase-out date from 2030 to 2025.

Not only the power sector

Still, renewable energy targets remain mainly focused mainly on the power sector. The decarbonisation of the power sector alone will not be sufficient to put the world on a climate-safe pathway: 20 per cent of the emission reductions needed in the energy sector will have to come from the accelerated use of renewables in end uses such as heating and cooling, as well as transport.

In conclusion, IRENA highlighted that for renewable energy targets in NDCs to become reality, they need to be aligned with renewable energy targets set in national energy plans and laws. Thus, the report sets out to support governments in designing renewable energy targets that can help achieve the pressing objectives of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from burning fossil fuels, increasing resilience to climate impacts, limiting the dependence on energy imports and achieving universal access to clean, affordable and reliable energy.

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