Climate change is an increasingly worrisome global threat that is altering plant and animal habitats, melting ice caps, and creating extreme weather events. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2020 was the second-warmest year since 1880. Moreover, the 10 hottest years recorded since that date have all occurred as of 2005. In its 2020 Annual Climate Report, the NOAA found that ocean and land temperatures have increased at an average rate of 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit per year since 1981. This is more than double the rate at which temperature has increased since 1880.
To enact change and slow this rate of global warming, 196 governments signed the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change, in December 2015. The goal of the agreement is to limit global warming to about 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. Governments have initiated long-term strategies to increase renewable energy capacity and, in turn, reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The following is a look at the progress made in this area by three state and federal governments as well as the European Union.
South Australia is among the world leaders in renewable energy generation. The state, which is larger than Texas and has a population of 1.7 million people, generated 60 percent of its energy from renewable sources in 2020. The region was entirely reliant on fossil fuel for electricity generation in 2006 and has since invested heavily in wind and solar energy. The state government originally hoped to achieve the modest goal of sourcing 26 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2020. Now, it intends to produce and import excess green energy to neighboring states such as Victoria and New South Wales by 2050.
Renewable energy growth in South Australia has largely been a result of legislative actions taken by the state and federal government. The federal government’s Renewable Energy Target, introduced in 2001, incentivized renewable energy installations for project developers and investors. In addition, more than 40 percent of households have rooftop solar panels. The state also chose not to subsidize its last coal generator and instead let its operation be dictated by market conditions. As a result, coal generation ceased in 2016.
India is also heavily investing in renewable energy, but it is likely to miss its ambitious target of 175 GW of installed capacity by 2022. The country set this target in 2015 and, as of April 2021, had installed about 95 GW of renewable energy. Its initial target included 100 GW of solar, 60 GW of wind, 10 GW of bio-power, and 5 GW of small hydropower. Bridge to India managing director Vinay Rustagi told Mongabay-India it’s unlikely the country will achieve these targets.
“According to our estimates, before COVID-19, India was expected to achieve a total installed capacity of about 122 GW by the end of 2022 including biomass and small hydro. But the picture has changed after COVID-19 and we estimate India to achieve only about 110 GW by the end of the next year. We simply don’t have the execution capacity required to scale up annual capacity addition to 25-30 GW. There are a lot of factors involved—land, transmission, grid robustness, etc. Moreover, where is the demand for such an amount of power?”
Despite Rustagi’s doubt, the Indian government remains focused on reaching these lofty targets. In March 2021, the country’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy noted there were more than 75 GW of renewable projects in development or in different stages of bidding. During a speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would strive to achieve 450 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030.
The United States leads the world in renewable energy investment, according to the IHS Markit’s Global Renewable Markets Attractiveness Rankings. This is in large part due to President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, which promises a completely decarbonized power system by 2035. Along with that, the US intends to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent as of 2030 relative to 2005 levels.
The US is the largest producer of oil and gas in the world, so it is incumbent upon the country to make large-scale changes to reduce global emissions. Nathaniel Keohane, an executive with the Environmental Defense Fund, stresses the US can achieve its 2030 emissions target with further investments in electric cars, trucks, and buses. It must also significantly reduce methane emissions.
Recognizing the need for more substantial renewable energy investment among its member states, the European Union will introduce the Fit for 55 legislative package in July. The package will update climate and energy laws to achieve a net emissions reduction of at least 55 percent by 2030. The EU had previously committed to a net emissions reduction of 40 percent.
This target still isn’t sufficient, according to some critics. In an opinion piece for EUObserver, Veerle Dossche, the EU energy policy coordinator for Climate Action Network Europe, said the emissions reduction goal should be at least 65 percent. She also stressed the EU should strive to achieve 100 percent renewable energy capacity by 2040.