Picture this: You’ve overcome a life of poverty and realised your dream to become a restauranteur. You take great care to prepare thoughtful meal options that will appeal to your local community; you find a desirable location to rent a space to host diners; you save your money for years to ensure you’ll be able to pay your bills, which include expensive petrol to fuel a power generator, but that only lasts about 7 hours per day. The rolling blackouts that occur, even when you’ve paid your electricity bill, happen multiple times per week. Your customers never know when you’ll be open, as you’re at the mercy of the failing infrastructure. The food you try desperately to keep cool despite the loss of power spoils regularly, wasting money and precious resources to keep the business afloat. You finally have to give up and close the doors on your restaurant forever.
This is just one reality happening in places like Nigeria, where power is scarce. In fact, 675 million people worldwide (many in Africa) currently live in complete darkness due to the lack of a reliable power source.
Compounding this issue is the fact that our main power sources worldwide, fossil fuels, are accelerating the impacts of climate change.
In 2009, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was founded by the United Nations (UN) to support countries across the globe in their transition to sustainable energy. In August of 2023, the UN declared the first-ever International Day of Clean Energy to take place in 2024 on the anniversary of the creation of that agency—today, January 26th. What they didn’t foresee was that it would come on the heels of a landmark climate summit that pledged to create a better future for us all.
Meant as “a call to raise awareness and mobilise action for a just and inclusive transition to clean energy for the benefit of people and the planet,” the observance is optimistic despite the fact the Sustainable Development Goal 7, which “aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030,” is significantly behind schedule.
In December, in what came as a great surprise to many, a historic agreement was made in Dubai at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 28. After nearly 200 participating entities agreed to work together toward limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
What this means is that the parties who signed on to this pledge are now expected to take significant action to accelerate the phase-down of unabated coal power and “other measures that drive the transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems.” The deadline to reach that goal is the year 2050. The countries hope to achieve this by tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030 and speeding up the adaptation of carbon capture technologies.
Works in Progress
The good news is that many countries got a jump start on leading the charge to transition away from harmful fossil fuels. Here are just a few that are already making a difference:
Earlier this month, it was reported that Portugal hit a record for renewable energy production in 2023 when they increased the percentage those power sources supported to 61% from last year’s (also impressive) 49%. This increase was helped by Mother Nature—who provided lots of rain, wind and sunshine. Portugal has a goal to power 85% of their country with renewable energy by 2030.
Eight years prior to their goal in 2012, Sweden achieved their 50% renewable energy target. They use a combination of solar, wind and yes—even body heat—to stay on track. If they continue on this productive path, they will reach their goal of 100% renewable energy use by 2040.
84% of New Zealand’s power is from renewable sources. Using hydropower and geothermal power, and adapting or increasing additional methods such as wind and solar, they will likely reach their goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
The world record for the country that has used renewable energy for the most consecutive days goes to Costa Rica, who did so for 300 days back in 2018. Plus, they’ve produced 98% of their electricity from renewables for nearly a decade, primarily utilising hydropower, and in some years were able to share their excess power with Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador and Honduras.
How to Help
As individuals, there are several ways we can impact fossil fuel consumption. Here are just a few:
- Support legislation and call on your leaders to reduce the use of fossil fuels in your community.
- Make your home energy efficient by replacing old appliances with newer models that conserve energy.
- Unless you drive an electric vehicle, limit the use of your car or truck as much as possible by taking public transportation, walking or riding a bicycle to the places you do business.
- Compost food scraps and recycle goods as often as possible.
- Avoid plastic products and fast-fashion—both of which use a significant amount of fossil fuels in their production process.
Though it may seem like we’re decades out from solely relying on clean energy, every action along the way will help us all breathe a little easier …