Global shift towards renewable energy happening at a ‘phenomenal’ pace, according to experts

Ilario D'Amato
17 February 2017

Adnan Z. Amin, DG, IRENA and Peter Thomson, President, UNGA

LONDON: The global transition towards a clean energy and climate-safe future is happening at a “phenomenal” pace, according to experts at this year’s 7th General Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), held last month in Abu Dhabi.

Speaking during a press conference, Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General, IRENA, underlined the growing momentum around renewable energy: “We have record levels of financial investment in renewables. The cost of renewable energy has come down substantially and the capacity additions have grown – and this is a phenomenon now that we’ve seen worldwide.”


We are living in a very exciting period, adds Adnan Amin, because the global energy system is going through a major transformation. “This transformation has not only the possibility to take us to a low carbon, climate-safe future; it also has the possibility to generate investment, growth and incomes at higher rates than we’ve seen.”

In fact, a study released last year by IRENA shows that renewable energy employment worldwide has reached 9.4 million people. “It’s one of the fastest growing industrial sectors in terms of employment and investment,” he continues, “and it holds the prospects for decarbonizing global energy system to levels where carbon emissions remain below the threshold required for a 2 degrees world.”

This is a reference to the science-based target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, which scientists believe would avoid the worst effects of climate change. The Paris Agreement has reinforced this message, aiming to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“This is not just an environmental issue,” concludes Adnan Amin, “this is an investment and economic issue, and this is an issue of a safe world for all of us.”


At the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, President, United Nations General Assembly, warned that “humanity is heading towards a precipice of unsustainability.” However, “the good news is that our leaders realized that this was not something that we could ignore.”

In fact, in 2015 the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations, and later it formalized the Paris Agreement on climate change. “If you take those two agreements and you put them together,” says Peter Thomson, “that is enough to bend humanity away from that precipice of unsustainability that I was talking about. But we’re not going to go on that path away from that precipice unless everybody knows about it and everybody works on it.”

To transform the world, we first need to transform “what we do, how we consume, how we reward business,” he explains. “In your consumer choices you should not be rewarding companies that are pursuing unsustainable production methods, or giving you products that are not sustainable – if you think about it in terms of what’s best for humanity’s future.”

Even if Peter Thomson concedes that “some of those SDGs are going to be very difficult for us to achieve,” he does believe that SDG number 7 – which aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all – “is actually one of the more easily achievable ones.” As a confirmation of that, he points out to the “US$305 billion of investment in renewable energy [spent] in 2015: that’s something to celebrate, in terms of transformation of the world.” Adding to this the dramatic fall in costs of renewables, “we can now see that this actually is the way that humanity is going towards renewable energy.”

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