As Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), I accepted with pleasure the opportunity to write about the remarkable transformation of the energy sector by renewable energy technologies. The topic was suggested to me in the gracious invitation by the UN Chronicle, and we will come to it in a moment, for it says a lot about where renewable energy is today and how it is perceived.
But first, we need to talk about why renewable energy is so important. The world is facing an unprecedented turning point. Climate change represents a real and imminent threat to the prosperity that many enjoy today, and that millions aspire to and are working towards. But of course, it is more than this. It is about the survival for the most vulnerable of this planet's citizens, and about the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity that we should be safeguarding. The changing climate is largely being driven by emissions from burning fossil fuels, although there are other important contributors. To stem climate change we must reduce our consumption of these carbon-intensive fuels. Renewables can and must be a central part of this plan.
The increased deployment of renewables will also bring other benefits. Renewable energy technologies create jobs, reduce local air pollution and require less water. Renewable energy technologies almost exclusively use local resources and therefore help insulate our economies from external energy security shocks. Critically, for many of our 173 Member and signatory States, renewable energy is also one of the fastest ways to expand access to electricity. The highly modular nature of many of these technologies, especially solar photovoltaics (PV) and onshore wind, also means that for the first time in the history of the electricity sector individuals and communities are playing an active role in their own electricity provision. As such, renewable energy technologies are spearheading a change to a more democratic, distributed energy system.
The benefits of renewable energy are many and obvious, but so have been the barriers to their uptake. Market structures, a lack of understanding of emerging renewable technologies, difficulty in accessing finance, high financing costs, inadequate regulatory frameworks, lack of remuneration for offsetting fossil fuel externalities (e.g. carbon and local air pollutant emissions), small markets and policy uncertainty have all played a role in hindering the deployment of...