Clean energy for green environment

M Zakir Hossain Khan and Sifat E Rabb

Clean energy will ensure the achievement of SDG 3 that has emphasised on ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being by reducing the public health damages caused by coal

“The environment and the economy are really both two sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves,” the statement was realisation of Wangari Maathai, a crusader who fought to conserve the nature of Kenya under her Green Belt Movement.

That the human civilisation extracted the natural resources unjustifiably and made irreversible damages to the earth the nature’s response is obvious. Climate change is ultimate outcome of excessive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Fossil fuel accounts for around 60% of total GHG emissions. Consequently, Barak Obama, former President of the US that is also the largest per capita emitter of the world, claimed that “A low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come,” but his successor Donald Trump has already declared to leave the Paris Climate Agreement that opted to hold the increase in the global average temperature at least to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

Under the ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR)’ principle, the Paris Climate Agreement has illustrated that “Parties shall, where engaging on a voluntary basis in cooperative approaches that involve the use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes towards nationally determined contributions, promote sustainable development and ensure environmental integrity and transparency, including in governance.”

Unfortunately, while vulnerable countries have opted to go for 100% renewable energy by 2050, some developed countries e.g. US, Australia, New Zealand, France and Japan are still eager to boost their domestic fossil fuel extraction.

Due to the fact that renewable energy could be one of the feasible mitigation approaches in the future, right before the Paris Agreement the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) targets were set for 2030 by UN.

Particularly SDG7 has been developed for universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy and to upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries by 2030.

In power sectors, generating electricity and heat contributes almost 44% of the global GHG. In Bangladesh, 87% of total power is consumed for domestic and industrial purpose.

A study reveals that if scaled up appropriately, distributed renewable solutions will be the cheapest and quickest way of reaching over two thirds of those without electricity in the world. Clean and safe cooking is mostly achieved through access to cleaner fuels, not by more coal power (ODI, 2016).

If clean energy is ensured that will have immense impacts on achieving other SDG targets. Particularly in terms of achieving the SDG1 to reduce poverty. Low-carbon, renewable options are competitive with coal. In 2014, despite reducing coal-based power generation, China was able to maintain 7% economic growth.

Renewables also contributed to 9.4 million additional jobs in 2015, compared to the 7 million employed by the coal industry, according to the World Coal Association’s estimate in 2012.

Moreover, clean energy will ensure the achievement of SDG3 that has emphasised on ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being by reducing the public health damages caused by coal.

Since coal plant is prime source of water pollution, replacement by solar or hydropower will ultimately ensure access to safe water stipulated in SDG6. Introduction of cheaper solar home system for inaccessible rural, remote areas, growing cities will ensure to achieve SDG10 that has focused on reducing inequality. More than 70% of the total population live in rural Bangladesh and have less than 42% electricity access.

The key thing in the expansion of clean or renewable energy in any country is not the infrastructure, but the lack of awareness in all developing countries including Bangladesh about opportunities and huge public health damages caused by coal.

Bangladesh emits 0.35% of the global total emission but is the most climate vulnerable country. To combat future climate change a number of mitigation preferences have been announced. The motivation is to move towards a low carbon society and climate resilient strong economy.

The INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) includes conditional and unconditional emissions reduction goals in the form of finance, investment, technology development and transfer and capacity building.

The unconditional reduction goal is a cut-off of GHG by 12Mt CO2 without external support whereas the conditional goal is a reduction of the GHG emission with external support by 36Mt CO2 within 2030. Bangladesh in its NDC has proposed to invest US$5.15 billion in clean energy by 2030 with funding from external sources.

In power sectors, generating electricity and heat contributes almost 44% of the global GHG. In Bangladesh, 87% of total power is consumed for domestic and industrial purpose. Per capita consumption in Bangladesh is only 295 kWh. Urban coverage is higher than rural areas.

Total electrical generation capacity is 10,213MW but still there is load-shedding of around 3,000MW. The demand supply gap could be managed by accelerating renewable sources. At present, the major source for domestic electricity is natural gas which provides almost 6578MW. Coal contributes only 250MW that covers 3% of the total power generation.

The 7th Five Year Plan (2015) has projected to increase coal power up to 21% by 2020 and 50% by 2030. Nuclear power would cover 8% by 2020 and 10% by 2030. The plan is to produce 50% electricity with a shift from natural gas to coal by 2030.

However, it is a disquieting decision to increase the power generation using coal and nuclear plant with “zero/low carbon emission”.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency activities in developing countries could cut off a 4.5GT CO2 emission in 2020. Kenya, a developing country, generated 7.6 million MWh of electricity in 2012 without producing and consuming any natural gas or coal.

The main renewable sources in Kenya are hydroelectric, geothermal, wind and solar. By 2020 Bangladesh has targeted to generate 10% of overall electricity from renewable sources even though the country ranks among top five countries in the world that are endowed with abundant solar light, wind and biomass.

Ensuring the SDG for affordable and clean energy it is suitable time towards a paradigm shift from non-renewable to renewable energy generation. However, Bangladesh need external financing of around US5.2 billion by 2030 to implement renewable projects.

The government should not entirely be dependent on the grid expansion for electrifying the whole country by 2020. The off-grid electrification (e.g. solar, wind) could be the alternative and better option to reach the entire rural population.

It is inspiring Sumba island in Indonesia generates 37 MW of potential energy which comes from micro-hydro power, wind, solar and bio-gas, with an aim to achieve 100% renewable sources by 2025. Innovation, reliability, quality services, responsive certification, entrepreneurship, and public engagement are key intangible issues in the rapid commercialization of the renewable energy.

The government should initiate small projects with a full-pledged renewable source in small villages, remote communities for a sustainable green society by reducing the carbon emissions.

Zakir Hossain Khan is Climate Finance Governance Analyst and Sifat E Rabbi is a PhD candidate at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

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