Summary for policymakers from the special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation (SRREN)

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Publication Date: 
08 May 2011
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The Working Group III Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) presents an assessment of the literature on the scientific, technological, environmental, economic and social aspects of the contribution of six renewable energy (RE) sources to the mitigation of climate change. It is intended to provide policy relevant information to governments, intergovernmental processes and other interested parties. This Summary for Policymakers provides an overview of the SRREN, summarizing the essential findings.

Renewable energy and climate change

Demand for energy and associated services, to meet social and economic development and improve human welfare and health, is increasing. All societies require energy services to meet basic human needs (e.g., lighting, cooking, space comfort, mobility and communication) and to serve productive processes. Since approximately 1850, global use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has increased to dominate energy supply, leading to a rapid growth in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions

GHG emissions resulting from the provision of energy services have contributed significantly to the historic increase in atmospheric GHG concentrations. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) concluded that "Most of the observed increase in global average temperature since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations."

Recent data confirms that consumption of fossil fuels accounts for the majority of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Emissions continue to grow and CO2 concentrations had increased to over 390 ppm, or 39% above preindustrial levels, by the end of 2010.

There are multiple options for lowering GHG emissions from the energy system while still satisfying the global demand for energy services. Some of these possible options, such as energy conservation and efficiency, fossil fuel switch, RE, nuclear and CCS were assessed in the AR4. A comprehensive evaluation of any portfolio of mitigation options would involve an evaluation of their respective mitigation potential as well as all associated risks, costs and their contribution to sustainable development. This report will concentrate on the role that the deployment of RE technologies can play within such a portfolio of mitigation options.

As well as having a large potential to mitigate climate change, RE can provide wider benefits. RE may, if implemented properly, contribute to social and economic development, energy access, a secure energy supply, and reducing negative impacts on the environment and health.

Under most conditions increasing the share of RE in the energy mix will require policies to stimulate changes in the energy system. Deployment of RE technologies has increased rapidly in recent years, and their share is projected to increase substantially under most ambitious mitigation scenarios [1.1.5, 10.2]. Additional policies would be required to attract the necessary increases in investment in technologies and infrastructure.

For more information download the report.

Acknowledgements: An official document of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative.