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Advent Hope for a Sustainable Future

Tue 8 December 2015

Advent Hope for a Sustainable Future

As we enter the season of Advent we look forward in hope to the incarnation, when God takes human form and enters the world to ‘make all things new’. The arrival of Advent coincided with the start of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. Can we equally look forward in hope for a world in which our grandchildren and their children might enjoy the rich bio-diversity of God’s creation, snorkel in coral reefs and enjoy predictable and reasonable weather?  Can the nations of the world agree to protect the common good, maintain economic growth for the poor and sharply reduce carbon emissions?

The goal in the Paris conference is to create a legally binding deal to keep global warming below 2 degrees Centigrade.  The main way to achieve this is to cut carbon emissions through a switch away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.  

While there is little doubt about the scale of the challenge to take the carbon out of the world’s energy supply, there is mounting evidence that the transition can be made without great cost if it is done in smart ways. Let me cite some evidence that there is hope and signs that humanity is moving to make the switch.

Most significant was the agreement in November last year between China and the US, the No. 1 and No. 2 polluters.  The US agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and China agreed to cap its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 at the latest.  In 2013, China generated more energy from renewable sources including water, wind and solar, than the entire power generation of France and Germany combined.

A recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) concluded that achieving a 36 percent share of renewable energy by 2030 would provide half of the emissions reductions needed to keep temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. 

By 2050, Europe is predicted to be sourcing half of its power from wind, the US more than a third. Germany’s renewable energy sector is one of the most successful and innovative worldwide.  Renewable energy made up 32.5% of power consumption in the first half of 2015 and on one day in May 2014, renewable energy generation surged to nearly 75 percent of the country’s overall electricity demand by midday. All this in a country with limited days of sunshine!

India faces twin challenges: find a way to meet its development goals while controlling carbon emissions.  To control emissions, India has set itself the world’s highest target of producing 100 GW through solar energy by 2022, and 60 GW through wind, though questions are raised about whether this target will be reached.  In the lead up to Paris, India has announced an ambitious plan to generate 350 GW through renewable sources by 2030. 

The bigger challenge for India and other developing countries will be to find the billions of dollars needed to move India to a green development path. In response to this challenge, the India Prime Minister and the French President announced in Paris this week a new global solar alliance of over 120 countries aims to mobilise $US1 trillion of investment by 2030 in solar projects to provide affordable clean energy to developing countries.

Funding for the switch to renewable energy is coming from the private sector too. Last month, Google announced that it will invest in Africa’s largest wind power farm, on the heels of the company’s $12 million investment in the largest solar project on the continent. By helping to provide clean power to areas of critical need, the Internet’s most popular search engine company not only helps those who need power the most, but also ensures a future supply of potential customers.

On the eve of the Paris conference, a new report from ClimateWorks shows how Australian can reach zero emissions by 2050, and still maintain strong economic and jobs growth, and cut costs to consumers. ClimateWorks suggests that Australia could easily cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 per cent by 2030 – compared to its current target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels.

ClimateWorks makes the case that simple actions such as replacing light bulbs and showerheads with more efficient ones, installing an energy saving plug to cut down the use of standby power of appliances and reducing clothes dryer use can already save typical households between $120 and $590 a year.

While the Federal Government may be forced to play catch-up in Paris, the States are moving quickly to cut emissions and boost their renewable energy resources.

The ACT government has a 90 per cent renewable energy target by 2020.

Queensland is leading the other States by a country mile in terms of rooftop solar, and is tipped to do the same in large-scale solar sometime soon. The government has confirmed its commitment to generating 50 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2030, and to ensure that one million of its homes had rooftop solar by 2020.

South Australia has committed to a new target of zero net emissions by 2050. Currently about 40 per cent of South Australia’s power is provided by renewable energy, the most of any mainland state. Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese has announced a plan to make Adelaide the world’s first carbon neutral city.  Victoria is looking to establish its own renewable energy target.

Writing from Paris, Erwin Jackson of the Climate Institute says ‘Australia, over the last two decades had done much less than many other nations to limit emissions. As a result, we still have the highest emissions per person and most pollution intensive economy of any developed nation. By not bringing per person emissions and emissions intensity down to levels comparable to others we are asking other nations to continue subsidising our lack of action.’

There is hope for the world to keep global warming below the 2 degrees’ Centigrade target but it requires all of us (nations and citizens) to make the change to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the end of the century.

In closing, a prayer by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu:

Creator God,

You have called us to be keepers of your Earth;
through greed, we have established an economy that destroys the web of life.
We have changed our climate and drown in despair.
Let oceans of justice flow,
May we learn to sustain and renew the life of our Mother, Earth.
We pray for our leaders, custodians of Mother Earth;
as they gather in Paris at the climate talks
May they negotiate with wisdom and fairness,
May they act with compassion and courage,
and lead us in the path of justice for the sake of our children and our children’s children.


Sources: India Climate Dialogue,, OECD ClimateWorks, The Climate Institute, Triple Pundit

Units of power: 1GW (gigawatt) = 1000 megawatts, MW (megawatt) =1000kilowatts,1 kW= 1000 watt hours)



By Russell Rollason

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