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Brave new world fuelled by clean economical energy possible and imperative by 2050

Windmill, close-up. Wind Farm at Castilla-La Mancha, Central Spain: © © Carlos G. VALLECILLO / WWF-CanonWindmill, close-up. Wind Farm at Castilla-La Mancha, Central Spain:
© © Carlos G. VALLECILLO / WWF-Canon
Gland, Switzerland: All of the world’s energy needs could be provided cleanly, renewably and economically by 2050, according to a major new study by WWF.

Two years in preparation, The Energy Report breaks new ground with its global scope and its consideration of total energy needs including transport, and making adequate and safe energy available to all.

“If we continue to rely on fossil fuels, we face a future of increasing anxieties over energy costs, energy security and climate change impacts,” said WWF Director General Jim Leape. “We are offering an alternative scenario – far more promising and entirely achievable.

“The Energy Report shows that in four decades we can have a world of vibrant economies and societies powered entirely by clean, cheap and renewable energy and with a vastly improved quality of life.

“The report is more than a scenario – it’s a call for action. We can achieve a cleaner, renewable future, but we must start now.”

The two-part report contains a detailed analysis and scenario presented by respected energy consultancy Ecofys, an analysis by WWF, and a graphic narrative by OMA. It shows that by 2050, power, transport, industrial and domestic energy needs could be met with only isolated residual uses of fossil and nuclear fuels – vastly reducing anxieties over energy security, pollution and not least, catastrophic climate change.

Energy efficiency in buildings, vehicles and industry would be a key ingredient, along with an increase in the energy needs met through electric power, renewably generated and supplied through smart grids.

Under the Ecofys scenario, in 2050 total energy demand will be 15 percent lower than in 2005, despite increases in population, industrial output, freight and travel - and energy being made available to those currently not enjoying its benefits. The world no longer relies on coal, or nuclear fuels, while international rules and cooperation limit potential environmental damage from biofuel production and hydroelectricity development.

“In this report we are very deliberately not making extravagant assumptions about the benefits of technologies yet to come,” said Ecofys director Kees van der Leun. “This inherently means that this is a moderate estimate of the renewable energy future we could enjoy by 2050.”

“At Ecofys we know that solutions for the global energy challenge are at hand. There are numerous systems that use energy more efficiently, allowing us to manage current energy sources more carefully. Moreover, we understand the opportunities in using the vast amounts of sustainable energy that surround us.”

Providing reliable, affordable and clean energy on the scale required will need a global effort – similar to the global response to the world financial crisis. But the benefits would be much greater in the long term, with the savings from lower energy costs balancing total new investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2040 and savings over a “Business-As-Usual” scenario amounting to around €4 trillion from lower energy costs alone by 2050.

Other benefits are savings from avoiding energy security conflicts, dirty spills and supply disruptions that are inherent in sourcing ever scarcer fossil fuels from more and more politically or environmentally challenging areas.

Importantly, The Energy Report scenario would see CO2 emissions from the world’s energy supply sector reduced by over 80 per cent by 2050 - providing a high level of confidence that the average global temperature rise will be limited to the less than the two degrees Celsius threshold identified as presenting unacceptable risks of catastrophic climate change.

“We will live differently, but we will live well,” said Jim Leape. “We must provide energy for all without imperiling our planet, and this report shows that we can.”


Clean Power for a Clean Planet

[From the WWF page on the Energy Report]

It must be done, and we can do it

The world needs to transition from its current unsustainable energy paradigm to a future powered by entirely renewable energy supply. Only by making such a transition will we be able to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change.

WWF’s ground-breaking energy study - The Energy Report - shows that this future is within our reach, and provides a vital insight into how it can be achieved.

Questioning the views of conventional experts

A growing number of leaders - from within the policy arena, business, media, and civil society, are questioning the views of conventional experts on the world’s energy future, and their “business-as-usual” scenarios, embarking on a serious search for realistic alternatives.

Their reasoning is obvious: minimizing climate change impacts will require substantial cuts in global emissions - as quickly as possible.

The world has reached peak conventional oil and gas, meaning oil and gas companies are digging deeper and deeper into unconventional sources, with disastrous environmental and social consequences. Coal is still relatively readily available, but catastrophic in terms of climate changing emissions. The world can no longer afford to hang on to its old energy paradigm, and its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.

A feasible global scenario

The Energy Report, produced through a collaboration between WWF and Ecofys, breaks new ground in the energy debate: a possible system in which ALL of the world’s energy supply is provided by renewable and sustainable sources by mid-century.

The Energy Report draws together strategies and technology options that have already been trialled or implemented - to create a feasible global scenario.

Most of the answers are already at our disposal.

WWF wants to help change the ‘old’ paradigm for the energy industry and articulate a new pathway for the future.

The Energy Report provides a meticulously researched scenario into a truly alternative vision for the energy future and what such a scenario implies for society at large.

What will it mean for me and you?
In 2050, the dominant form of energy available to the consumer wherever he or she lives will be electricity.

This highest value form of energy can be transported and applied relatively easily.

Efficient electricity transport will, however, mean investment in new, more efficient, ‘intelligent’ electricity grids.


Recommendation

[From the Energy Report ]

  1. Clean Energy: Promote only the most efficient products. Develop existing and new renewable energy sources to provide enough clean energy for all by 2050.
  2. Grids: Share and exchange clean energy through grids and trade, making the best use of sustainable energy sources in different areas.
  3. Access: End energy poverty: provide clean electricity and promote sustainable practices, such as efficient cook stoves, to everyone in developing countries.
  4. Money: Invest in renewable and clean energy and energy-efficient products and buildings.
  5. Food: Stop food waste. Choose food in an efficient and sustainable way to free up land for nature, sustainable forestry, and biofuel production. Everyone has an equal right to healthy levels of protein in their diet -- for this to happen, wealthier people need to eat less meat.
  6. Materials: Reduce, re-use, recycle -- to minimize waste and save energy. Develop durable materials. And avoid things we don't need.
  7. Transport: Provide incentives to encourage greater use of public transport, and to reduce the distances people and goods travel. Promote electrification wherever possible, and support research into hydrogen and other alternative fuels for shipping and aviation.
  8. Technology Develop national, bilateral and multi-lateral action plans to promote research and devlopment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  9. Sustainability Develop and enforce strict sustainability criteria that ensure renewable energy is compatible with environmental and development goals.
  10. Agreements Support ambitious climate and energy agreements to provide global guidance and promote global cooperation on renewable energy and efficiency efforts.
Editorial Notes: The PDF for The Energy Report is downloadable from WWF. The latest in a long series of energy reports from mainstream environmental and liberal organizations. To judge by the Recommendations, there are some important advances. Biofuels and hydrogen, while still mentioned, are downplayed. There are nods in the direction of behavior change (l"less food waste") and relocalization. Erik Lindberg, Transition Milwaukee in a review of the report sees an ideology of modernism and centralization: Fantasies of hyper-globalism: the WWF's Energy Report. -BA

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