Climate change is a worldwide problem that cannot be solved by any country acting alone. Unfortunately, since the threat of global climate change came to the attention of world leaders, no globally enforceable regime for controlling worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has been established. A recent UN report says “a lack of global cooperation, lack of governance of the energy and land transformation, and growing resource-intensive consumption are key impediments for achieving 1.5°C-consistent pathways.” This report also warned that there are only a few years left before it is too late to limit the increase of global temperatures to 1.5°C, or even the previous target of 2°C.
If achieving a global agreement were our only hope to address the climate change problem, our situation would be bleak. However, there are reasons to be hopeful. First of all, research and commercial development has reduced the cost of clean energy technologies. Renewable energy technologies are now among the most cost competitive ways to produce electricity. Solar PVs are still experiencing cost reductions and will soon be the least expensive source of electricity in many countries. When clean energy choices are the least expensive, market forces are harnessed to achieve GHG emission reductions.
In addition to competitive market forces, clean energy technologies also enjoy national policy support, not necessarily designed to address the GHG problem, but to serve urgent national objectives. For example, one of Turkey’s energy policy pillars is localization. Localization includes primary energy resources and the production of energy technologies. As a result of these policies, Turkey has already met its 2023 goal to produce 30% of its electricity from renewables. Because renewable power plants are not 24/7 base load plants, that meant growing renewable generating capacity to 50%. Turkey will keep growing renewable power to achieve 50% renewable electricity production by 2023. New tenders will increase private investment in wind, solar and geothermal energy. These tenders include gigawatt-scale investments of solar energy, onshore wind and offshore wind coupled with battery storage. In addition, these tenders require Turkish production of capital equipment and employment of Turkish engineers. Consequently, the tenders not only reduce Turkey’s reliance on imported energy but also reduce Turkey’s imports of electrical generating equipment and enhance Turkey’s industrial competitiveness.
Other national policies are fueling the growth of clean energy. For example, China’s urgent national priority to reduce severe urban air pollution means that they are replacing obsolete coal plants with renewable energy. Countries with populations that do not have access to electricity or clean fuels (for example, India) are turning to renewables because they have the right scale and do not rely on long transmission grids to connect power plants to customers. Even in the United States, where the Federal government has a relatively minor role in U.S. power-sector investments, most of the U.S. states require renewable energy since, given local circumstances, investment in renewable energy has been judged to be a good economic policy.
Achieving low GHG emissions in the power sector will be a key to reduce all energy-sector emissions. For example, the combustion of fossil fuels in the industrial and transportation sectors can be replaced with clean electricity. The only climate goal that is more important than a clean power-sector is achieving improved energy efficiency.