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2020 saw renewable energy overtake fossil fuels for the first time

It’s official: two independent reports – one from climate and energy ‘think tank’ Ember, the other from PwC – confirm that 2020 was the first year that energy generated in the EU from renewable sources overtook energy generated from fossil fuels. Wind and solar energy generated an impressive fifth of the total.

According to the PwC study, the UK has achieved the highest long-term reduction in greenhouse gases output in the world during the 21st century; we have managed to cut carbon emissions by 3.7% every year. The UK has reduced consumption of coal, natural gas and oil while expanding production of renewable energy, particularly wind power.

Great news, but we’re going to have to keep up the momentum if we are to meet this country’s own ambitious target of reducing emissions by over two-thirds (68%) from 1999 levels by 2030, and to achieve net zero by 2050. Furthermore, to deliver on those promises, the experts calculate that Britain will have to keep investing around £400bn per annum in green infrastructure and renewable energy.

Even so, to have a truly meaningful global impact, a concerted effort to cut emissions needs to extend far beyond our shores. PwC estimates that the world needs to reduced carbon intensity five times faster than at present rates just to hit the Paris Agreement target of limiting the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report says that we need a decarbonisation rate of 11.7% per annum; in 2019, we managed a reduction of just 2.4%!

Clearly, we still have a long way to go, particularly since gas remains the UK’s single largest power source at 37% of the total in 2020. However, it is encouraging that wind power has doubled its contribution since 2015, accounting for 24% last year and 20% in 2019. By contrast, fossil gas dropped to a 5-year low in 2020, partly explained by the growth in wind power, but also due to below-average demand because of COVID-19.

The future is exciting and a little scary. As a senior analyst at Ember commented: “Europe is relying on wind and solar to ensure not only coal is phased out by 2030, but also to phase out gas generation, replace aging nuclear power plants and to meet rising electricity demand from electric cars, heat pumps and electrolysers.”

Everyone can play their small part in becoming carbon neutral or even better, carbon negative – and to hit these targets, we need to.