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Renewables' potential revealed?

Renewable energy could supply 77% of world energy needs by 2050, according to a new report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), up from just 13% now. To achieve this, governments will have to back renewable energy with unprecedented investment and the right enabling public policies. Deploying renewable-energy technologies could help prevent 220 to 560 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere between 2010 and 2050.

Ramon Pichs, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group that produced the report, added that “developing countries have an important stake in this future—this is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment.”

Reaction to the report was mixed. Geoffrey Lean, writing in UK newspaper the The Daily Telegraph, said: “the potential is immense. Even if its optimistic scenario for 2050 actually becomes reality, 97% of the technical potential for renewables worldwide will remain untapped.”

Sven Teske of Greenpeace International, one of the lead authors of the report, said: “This is an invitation to governments to initiate a radical overhaul of their policies and place renewable energy centre stage. On the run up to the next major climate conference, COP17 in South Africa in December, the onus is clearly on governments to step up to the mark.”

However US academic Roger Pielke Junior had a slightly different take on the report, suggesting that “the IPCC has just issued a new summary for policymakers for a forthcoming special report on renewable energy that appears (indirectly and obliquely) to finally admit that we just do not have the technology necessary to achieve low targets for the stabilisation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (e.g. something like 450 ppm).”

The full, 900 page report will be released on May 31. 

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To adapt more, not to supply more

On the issue of renewable energy, we can't completely rely on IPCC. Now that it seems to be unwise to entrust UN with the issue of climate change, for there are too many political issues with it. At the end of 2009, I read an article in Scientific American in the US, which said that the problem of electrocity supply can be resolved if there are around 3.5 million aerogenerator and a solar heating system with a space of hundreds of thousands of square meter, so I feel complicated when seeing the coming "good news" in 900 pages. Firstly, year 2050 is in a far-distant future, and many people will be dead at that time. It makes people feel hollow and thus fails to activate them. Secondly, if the solution is so great, why don't we apply them? Why have we done so little in the past 20 years? We can't keep leaving problems to the future and be proud of it. Thirdly, Iphone didn't need any UN promotion to make itself eagerly wanted by people waiting in line. Is the renewable energy even not as good as an Iphone? If renewable energy is as promising as it appears, why don't Bill Gates care about it but focus on traveling wave nuclear reactor? Why is UN so keen on something that are not emphasized by the richest people with great power in the world? Isn't it ridiculous? Won't it be more effective and practical to invite Jobs into the huge promotion? I just don't see what's going on in those IPCC experts' mind. Then our developing countries are blamed on asking for whatever it is. The trend of demand - cars, houses, Iphones - are all led by western countries. They shall apply the technology, expand its scale and show it to us, if you want the renewable energy to be widely applied. At that time the developing countries will be eager to learn this technologies. China is quite active in renewable energy generating, but the result is surplus on wind and solar energy. That is also a warning to all the developed and developing countries. The money invested in renewable energy does not come from nowhere. There are also opportunity costs. It probably ends no good - with so much money spent and no energy saved. Since 2012 is coming near, why can't everybody calm down?

This comment is translated by Zhang Xiaofei.