By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

More fossil fuel heartache or a clean energy future? That’s the question on many minds as the the BP oil spill spirals out of control in the Gulf of Mexico.

Wind farm (Photo: GreenRightNow)

Wind farm (Photo: GreenRightNow)

And the answer is easy, according to a newly revised Greenpeace International report. It concludes that moving aggressively toward clean energy would add jobs to the energy sector overall, make energy more affordable — not more costly — stop the pollution and insulate local communities from wild fuel price fluctuations.

Making the switch is not only possible, it would bring better living conditions for all involved, according to the third edition of Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook, a detailed blueprint for a new world energy plan.

Created in collaboration with the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) the report contends that pulling out all the stops in the move toward a clean energy future would generate economic growth and maintains that the fears about switching off fossil fuels  are trumped up scare tactics espoused by conventional energy companies. The report’s authors maintain that the move to renewables would not bring high electricity prices and electricity outages and other calamities that have been predicted.

In fact, they say, the opposite is true: The world would be more stable, cleaner and could avert economic shocks from declining fossil fuel supplies.

“Our Energy Revolution scenario shows how to eliminate unpredictable fossil fuel costs, destructive mining and oil exploration and with it catastrophes such as the current BP Gulf oil spill,” said Sven Teske, Greenpeace International’s Senior Energy Expert and co-author of the report.

“Investing in people, rather than dirty and dangerous fossil fuels not only boosts global economic development but stems catastrophic climate change.”

So what’s holding the world back? The Greenpeace analysis finds that the main barrier to change is the lack of a political will to push clean energy forward.

Technologically, the world is already capable, without advancements, of reaching a 95 percent clean energy future by 2050, according to the report.

“The 2010 Energy Revolution report outlines pathways towards a 100% renewable energy supply for the world. It demonstrates that there is no technological barrier to achieving this vision and reaping its many benefits in terms of the environment and jobs. The barrier is political. All that is now needed to set sustainable energy future for our planet is the political will,” said Christine Lins, Secretary General of the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC).

The report notes that getting to a renewable energy economy would require some transitional policies to make sure workers benefit economically. But those would not include more nuclear energy, which the authors see as diverting too many resources from the development of truly clean energy production, like wind and solar. The report also cites the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear waste and dangerous accidents as arguments against taking a detour toward nuclear.

But the report finds that scaling up toward a sustainable energy economy could produce multiple benefits within the coming decades by:

  • Creating 12 million jobs  – 8.5 million of them in renewable energy — by 2030.
  • Slowing global CO2 emissions so that they peak by 2015 and drop thereafter to be 80 percent lower by 2050 than carbon dioxide emissions in 1990 – a target that scientists says could help avoid cataclysmic climate change outcomes.
  • Producing 95 percent of electricity needed worldwide from renewable, non-polluting energy sources (wind, solar and geothermal).

The 212 page report goes in depth to discuss what needs to happen to achieve these goals. First, there must be a cap-and-trade system in place to put a price on carbon emissions, the authors say.

Also on the agenda, governments must:

  • Phase out subsidies for fossil fuel industries
  • Mandate strict efficiency standards for vehicles and all electricity-consuming appliances
  • Remake the electricity grid system by giving “priority access” to renewable power generators
  • Define and create stable returns for investors in renewables (through “feed-in tariffs”)
  • Increase research and development budgets for renewables and for energy efficiency
  • Enact laws requiring power companies to purchase an increasing quota of renewable energy
  • Establish legally binding targets for countries to reach a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources
  • Subsidize and create incentives for the most efficient transportation possible, including hybrids and electric cars, trains and buses
  • Set emissions standards that drive out inefficient vehicles and polluting power plants

With these policy changes, the economy can move quickly toward a new, cleaner way of producing energy, a program that could literally save the planet, according to the report.

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