Renewable energy concept

Renewables targets missed in 2020 despite fall in energy demand

Image credit: Vaclav Volrab/Dreamstime

Despite major falls in energy demand during the Covid-19 pandemic, countries still failed to meet their “unambitious renewable energy targets” in 2020, according to green energy policy network REN21.

In its annual report, REN21 said that primary energy demand fell by 4 per cent in 2020 as the pandemic shut down economies, industry and reduced travel. However, it found that countries are still “nowhere near the necessary paradigm shift towards a clean, healthier and more equitable energy future”.

While global carbon dioxide output fell precipitously last year, this trend is expected to reverse in 2021 due to economies growing again and the rising demand for coal.

The report also stated that the share of fossil fuels in the total energy mix is as high as a decade ago (80.3 per cent vs. 80.2 per cent today) and the renewable energy share only increased slightly.

“We are waking up to the bitter reality that the climate policy promises over the past ten years have mostly been empty words. The share of fossil fuels in final energy consumption has not moved by an inch,” said Rana Adib, REN21’s executive director. “Phasing them out and making renewables the new norm are the strongest actions we can take.”

While the last decade has seen an exponential increase in new renewable energy facilities around the world, this has been matched by rising energy demand globally.

REN21 did offer some hope, recognising that the power sector has made “great progress” with almost all new power capacity being made in renewables. More than 256GW were added globally in 2020, surpassing the previous record by nearly 30 per cent.

Increasingly in many regions - including parts of China, the EU, India and the US - it is now cheaper to build new wind or solar PV plants than to operate existing coal-fired power plants.

“The renewable energy transition is gaining pace because it makes business sense as well as environmental sense. Renewable electricity is already creating millions of jobs, saving businesses money, and providing energy access to millions. But businesses and governments need to go faster, not only for the environment, but to remain competitive in a renewably powered 21st-century economy,” said Sam Kimmins, head of climate group RE100.

The report notes that while there has been a wave of stronger commitments to action on the climate crisis in 2020, including net-zero carbon emissions targets by China, Japan and South Korea, Covid-19 recovery packages provided six times more investment to fossil fuels than to renewable energy. 

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