It’s less than a week to go before the world comes together in Glasgow for COP26. A key topic of conversation will be phasing out fossil fuels in favour of green energy sources. As the pressure on world leaders to outline the changes that must be made continues to grow, we take a look at some of the key sectors driving this transition.
The single largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for heat and electricity (IPCC 2014). Renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydro power, will play a major role in reducing these emissions and forms part of the COP26 agenda. Globally, renewables already account for around 30% of total electricity generation, overtaking coal.
Over the last year there have been some positive developments, which signal continued investment within renewables. According to a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) renewable energy employment worldwide reached 12 million in 2020, up from 11.5 million the previous year despite delays caused by COVID-19. Leading global employment growth were solar jobs, accounting for 4 million of the totals, followed by wind jobs which were estimated at 1.25 million.
Countries leading renewable energy jobs worldwide include China, which accounted for 39% of these, Brazil, India, the US and members of the EU. However, these countries also remain at the top of the world's top polluters list so further work is needed here. In parallel, an increase in global investments, with financial aid given to poorer countries, has been sighted as fundamental in encouraging widespread transition.
The role of nuclear power in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement has divided EU nations. During operation nuclear power plants produce no greenhouse gas emissions and produce around 33% of the carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity when compared with solar. Nuclear power is even considered by some to be the most reliable energy resource, producing maximum power more than 93% of the time during the year (DOE, 2021). As a result, it is expected that investment into nuclear technology will be a hot topic at COP26, something which the IAEA are in support of.
Together, the construction and building industry is accountable for 39% of global carbon emissions. Whilst this shows a huge impact, it also presents an opportunity for a more aligned approach to the sustainability of buildings and infrastructure. For the first time, the annual COP26 conference will have a day that is entirely focused on sustainability in the built environment. This will give stakeholders, across all aspects of built environment, an opportunity to discuss how they will deliver change in order to reach Paris Agreement commitments. An important topic of conversation will be the creation of more energy efficient buildings, with particular focus on carbon neutral and net-zero buildings. Governments will have a huge role to play in the implementation of these strategies.
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