Renewable energy and climate pledges: Five years after the Paris Agreement

With the adoption of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015, nearly all countries around the world agreed to keep the rise in the average global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) this century compared to pre-industrial levels, and to try to limit the increase to 1.5 °C.

Renewable energy is a crucial component of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – the national pledges submitted under the framework of the Paris Agreement. NDCs quantify the commitment of each
Party (or signatory that has ratified the agreement) to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and other greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to adapt to the impacts of climate change. By scaling up renewable energy, countries can sharply reduce one major source of the problem: their energy-related CO2 emissions.

Renewable energy components in current NDCs

Of the total 188 Parties that had submitted NDCs as of early December 2020, 170 (or 90% of the total) mentioned renewables, while 134 (or 71%) included quantified renewable energy targets. While all of these 134 Parties included renewable energy targets for electricity generation in their NDCs, only 56 included targets outside the power sector, including for direct heat and for transport (Figure 1). The potential of renewables in heating and cooling and in transport remains largely untapped in current NDCs, even though these end uses account for nearly one-half and one-third, respectively, of total global energy consumption, and their decarbonisation is key to achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Targets expressed in NDCs could boost the generation of renewable-based electricity rapidly by 2030. If all renewable energy targets included in NDCs, specifically within the power sector, were implemented, an additional 1 041 gigawatts (GW) of renewables would be added within the decade, according to estimates by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).1 Global installed capacity for renewable power generation would consequently grow almost 42%, from 2 523 GW in 2019 to an estimated 3 564 GW in 2030.

While most of this new capacity would be added in Asia (567 GW), the highest growth compared to current levels is expected in Africa and the Middle East, which are set to almost triple their installed capacity for renewable power in the next decade. Focusing on the 134 Parties with explicit renewable power targets in their NDCs, deployment trends resulting from NDC implementation are estimated to be lower than actual observed trends, overall. On an annual basis, NDC implementation would add on average 95 GW of renewables each year during 2020-2030, 12% below the average of 107 GW added annually during 2010-2019. However, results differ by region: in Africa and the Middle East, for example, NDC targets are more ambitious than deployment trends observed over the past decade, whereas in North America and Asia targets fail to
reflect the past.

2020 updates
The year now ending, 2020, marks the beginning of the formal NDC submission cycle. All Parties to the Paris Agreement were expected to submit new or updated NDCs by 2020, with updates every five years thereafter. In particular, each Party with a first NDC running to 2025 was to communicate a new NDC with an extended time frame (up to 2030 or longer) by 2020. Fifteen countries2 still had 2025 targets in their NDCs at the beginning of 2020. Of those, only Brazil and Grenada had submitted a new NDC by early
December 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected countries around the world, slowing economic activities and hindering, among other things, country-level NDC review processes. As a result, many Parties are likely to miss the 2020 NDC deadline. Since the beginning of 2020, only 18 countries3 had submitted new NDCs, and at least 7 countries had communicated to IRENA that they planned to submit their NDC updates before year’s end.

2020: The good news
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world have announced ambitious climate pledges. Near the end of 2020, more than 12 countries and the European Union had passed or proposed laws related to net-zero emissions. Such targets demonstrate national commitments to the deployment and development of renewables and can provide higher levels of certainty for investors and consumers.

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