Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rise, When They Need to Fall: Interview with an Expert


Interview with an Expert: IRENA Consultant Kelly Rigg

COP27 has started amid growing global challenges. The Ukraine conflict, combined with the COVID-19's long-term repercussions, has made it clear that the energy transition needs to be accelerated to address both the energy and climate crisis. As tens of thousands of delegates converged on Sharm el-Sheikh, IRENA Consultant Kelly Rigg, who has led many prominent international campaigns related to climate and energy, shares her thoughts on some of the key issues likely to be on the conference agenda.

Why is transitioning to green energy key to both tackling climate change and creating sustainable economies?

Energy is responsible for nearly 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, urgently switching to an energy system based on renewable sources is essential to address the climate crisis. The good news is that we have the technology to do so, and renewables are currently the most affordable option to add new power capacity. The average cost of new solar PV and onshore wind power projects is now lower than the cost of operating many existing coal plants. Energy, however, encompasses much more than just power, so we still have much work to do. Some sectors, for example heavy-duty transportation, are harder to abate and different solutions will be required. Green hydrogen will play an important role in meeting some of these needs.

How have countries fared on their climate commitments and what are your expectations from COP27?

First, greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise, when they need to be falling steeply. At the time, the Paris Agreement was adopted, the so-called nationally determined contributions (government pledges) were insufficient to meet the goal of holding the temperature rise to 1.5° C. Governments, therefore, agreed that their pledges would be updated and strengthened after five years. This year is the deadline to do that, but more needs to be done. Analysis shows we are heading for 2.4° C of warming, which is likely to be catastrophic. I found that IRENA’s new report Renewable Energy Targets in 2022: A guide to design, released yesterday at COP27, provides a sobering view of what needs to be done. The report assesses the level of renewable energy ambition in national climate pledges against the global climate goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5°C. It probably comes as no surprise that the report shows the collective level of energy transition ambition to date is not enough–and this is despite last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact, which called for upgrading 2030 targets in national pledges. Second, promises on finance are yet to be realised. Thirteen years ago, at COP15 in Copenhagen, developed nations made a significant pledge to channel US$100 billion a year to developing nations by 2020, for both mitigation and adaptation. In 2020 they provided $83.3 billion.

What does COP27 mean for adaptation?

Adaptation finance is growing slowly, but not enough. UN Environment’s 2021 adaptation gap report shows that adaptation needs are 5 to 10 times higher than what is being provided. And the gap between what is being provided and what the costs are turning out to be is growing.

Any concluding thoughts?

The best time to have addressed the impending climate crisis was 30 years ago. The second-best time is now.

Expert Insight by:

Kelly Rigg