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A Q&A With IRENA’s Director-General, Adnan Z. Amin

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has, since its formation in 2009, pushed for the adoption and sustainable use of renewable energy globally. IRENA played a key role in pushing for strong renewable energy targets at both last year’s Paris Climate Talks, and, most recently, at the Clean Energy Minsterial (CEM) in San Francisco, where Ministers of Energy and top government officials from most of the world’s largest and most energy-hungry countries met to develop concrete plans to promote clean energy usage, development and investment around the world.

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IRENA’s Director-General, Adnan Z. Amin, is widely considered one of the foremost global experts on renewable energies, with over 25 years of experience in the development of international environment and sustainable development policy. Planet Experts spoke with Amin in San Francisco about his experiences at CEM and his thoughts about the future potential for clean energy.

Planet Experts: How has your experience been at the CEM? Do you feel that we’re getting the clean energy commitments and action from participating Governments that we need?

Adnan Z. Amin: Events like the Clean Energy Ministerial are crucial to push forward the renewable energy agenda. This CEM brought together key stakeholders representing some 75 percent of global emissions. In doing so, it provided a platform to discuss the policy and regulatory specifics needed to facilitate real action to transform the energy sector. The commitments coming out of the CEM were also impressive and build on the momentum created at COP21.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)(Photo via Twitter)

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)(Photo via Twitter)

PE: What more can world governments do, beyond what they’ve already committed to, to address distortions in the market that, to this day, benefit fossil fuels?

AZA: Our recent REmap analysis addresses this point specifically. In order to achieve a doubling of global renewable energy by 2030, we recommend five priority areas for action including correcting market distortions to create a level playing field; introducing greater flexibility into energy systems to accommodate the variable nature of some forms of renewable energy; developing and deploying renewable energy solutions for heating and cooling; promoting electric transport; and ensuring the sustainable, affordable and reliable supply of bioenergy feedstocks. If these areas are addressed, we believe we will see a dramatic increase in renewables in the coming years.

PE: Every week, we hear news about new renewable records, or costs drops. But we also hear news about faster-than expected temperature rises, and, this very week, massive unprecedented coral bleaching. Are we scaling renewables fast enough – and what more need to be done to get us to the scale necessary for protecting global climate?

AZA: Our analysis finds that doubling the global share of renewables by 2030 would provide half the needed emissions to achieve our climate targets while energy efficiency measures could provide the rest. Achieving this is feasible, and actually less expensive than not doing so, but more and faster action is needed.

To achieve a doubling, the annual rate of renewable energy deployment would need to increase six-fold from today’s levels. Although the energy transition is well underway in the power sector, to reach global climate and development targets, the renewable share must not only continue to increase in electricity but also rise in transport, heating and cooling. Effective action against climate change also calls for scaling up investments in renewable energy.

CPV (Concentrator Photovoltaic) modules on dual axis solar trackers in Golmud, China. (Photo Credit: Vinaykumar8687 / WikiMedia Commons)

CPV (Concentrator Photovoltaic) modules on dual axis solar trackers in Golmud, China. (Photo Credit: Vinaykumar8687 / WikiMedia Commons)

PE: Do you see investment growth increasing even more than where it is today?

AZA: Definitely. We estimate that global annual investment in renewables should reach USD $900 billion by 2030. Annual investments between now and 2020 should reach USD $500 billion, almost a doubling from current levels of investments.

These are remarkable trends that we are seeing. We’re already at the point where transformative change can happen based on the technology we have today. If you look at the possibilities for the future, then renewable energy looks like a very smart business decision.

Windmill 28 kilometers offshore of the Belgian part of the North Sea. (Image Credit: Hans Hillewaert)

Windmill 28 kilometers offshore of the Belgian part of the North Sea. (Image Credit: Hans Hillewaert)

PE: Hearing all this, it sounds like you’re optimistic that we can achieve the growth in clean energy we need. Is that right?

AZA: We talk a lot about barriers and opportunities, and I think going forward the opportunities are bigger than the barriers, but we also know that there is a challenge ahead to make this happen.

Everybody is talking a lot about Paris, and I was in Paris and I was very excited, but I’ve been following climate policy for over 15 years at the international level, and I think the difference now is that the road from Paris is characterized by people who are committed to making change, and that’s what going to make a difference. Not a legal agreement, but people. 

Learn more about IRENA’s work here.

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