Pace of progress raises hope that fossil fuel companies could lose their domination
The Green Rigg windfarm in Northumberland. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian
The world’s rising reliance on fossil fuels may come to an end decades earlier than the most polluting companies predict, offering early signs of hope in the global battle to tackle the climate crisis.
The climate green shoots have emerged amid a renewable energy revolution that promises an end to the rising demand for oil and coal in the 2020s, before the fossil fuels face a terminal decline.
The looming fossil fuel peak is expected to emerge decades ahead of forecasts from oil and mining companies, which are betting that demand for polluting energy will rise until the 2040s.
But energy experts are adjusting their forecasts as clean energy technologies, including wind and solar power, emerge faster than predicted and at costs that pose a direct threat to coal-fired electricity and combustion-engine vehicles.
In the UK, renewable energy projects generated more electricity over the last quarter than fossil fuels for the first time since the country’s first public power plant fired up in 1882. It is a marked change from only 10 years ago, when gas and coal generated more than 70% of the UK’s electricity.
The pace of progress has raised hope that the global groundswell of climate protest could spark fresh political will to accelerate the energy transition in time to keep global temperatures from rising to levels that could trigger a climate catastrophe.
The UK Labour party has promised a Green Industrial Revolution to create almost 70,000 new jobs while working to create a carbon-neutral economy by 2030. In the US, the Green New Deal, spearheaded by the congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aims to virtually eliminate the US’s greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade.
Within the energy industry, experts believe the rapid rise of renewable energy in recent years may soon seem glacial compared with the changes to come.
Michael Liebreich, the founder of the research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), says the substitution of old technology with new is always “like waiting for a sneeze”.
“The first 1% takes forever, 1% to 5% is like waiting for a sneeze – you know it’s inevitable but it takes longer than you think – then 5% to 50% happens incredibly fast,” he says. MORE