In the lead up to the next COP discussions, the Energy and Just Development team will publish The Road to COP28, an “Explainer Series” to help explain some of the key issues that are important as part of the COP discussions – and climate change mitigation generally.  

Understanding the Opportunities and Challenges of a Global Renewable Energy Goal in the Context of COP Talks 

By: Lena Dente, Senior Programme Manager, Energy and Just Development 

As we creep ever closer to 2030 and to the 1.5°C threshold, combatting the effects of climate change and transitioning to more sustainable energy sources are becoming increasingly urgent . The Conference of the Parties (COP) discussions, held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), are pivotal in shaping international climate policies and in supporting strong political will. Among the various proposals under consideration, the implementation of a global renewable energy target has emerged as a key focus.  

Why do we need a global renewable energy target? 

The benefits of a global renewable energy target are manifold. Firstly, it would play a substantial role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal, countries could significantly decrease their carbon footprints and effectively mitigate their climate change risks and build resilience into their energy systems. As renewables are also able to be installed off-grid, they can help to decentralise and diversify energy supply, which can address the important issue of energy poverty.

Did you know that still in 2022, approximately 770 million people worldwide did not have access to electricity? Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the global population without access to electricity rose to 77% from 74% before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source :  

IEA (2022), SDG7: Data and Projections, IEA, Paris, License: CC BY 4.0 

A global renewable energy target would promote energy security by diversifying the energy mix and reducing dependence on fossil fuel imports.      Countries endowed with abundant renewable resources would have the opportunity to harness their own energy sources, ensuring a stable and reliable supply. This could decrease vulnerability to geopolitical conflicts and the price fluctuations associated with fossil fuel markets. 

Transitioning to renewable energy systems would also generate economic opportunities and drive job growth. The renewable energy sector is labor-intensive, offering employment across various skill levels. Investments in renewable technologies would foster innovation, leading to the development of new industries and the potential for exporting clean energy solutions.

38.2 million jobs will be the amount of worldwide employment in renewable energy in 2030 under an ambitious energy transition scenario with front-loaded investments. The number of jobs in the energy sector could rise to 139 million, including more than 74 million in energy efficiency, electric vehicles, power systems/flexibility and hydrogen. 

Source: IRENA and ILO (2022), Renewable energy and jobs: Annual review 2022, International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi and International Labour Organization, Geneva.) 

A global renewable energy target would stimulate research and development in clean energy technologies, driving innovation. This would result in enhanced efficiency and cost-effectiveness of renewable energy systems. Advancements in energy storage, grid integration, and smart technologies would improve the overall performance of renewable sources, making them superior alternatives to traditional energy sources. 

A further factor that is not always in the forefront of discussions are the health benefits that renewable energies can help foster. Transitioning to renewable energy sources will yield improved air quality and public health benefits. By reducing air pollution associated with fossil fuel combustion and biomaterials cooking, cleaner air will lead to a decrease in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, enhancing the well-being of populations. This shift to renewable energy can help countries prioritize public health alongside climate concerns.

What are the key concerns against a global renewable energy target?  

While global renewable energy targets bring many benefits, one significant concern is the cost implications. While the costs of large-scale renewable energy systems have been declining their upfront capital investment remains substantial. Developing countries may face financial constraints in adopting renewable energy at scale, potentially burdening their economic development. Adequate support mechanisms and financial assistance will be necessary to alleviate these challenges. 

According to IRENA’s “Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2020” report: The global weighted-average levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) projects has declined by 85% between 2010 and 2020. Onshore wind power saw a cost reduction of around 56% over the same period. 

IRENA (2021), Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2020, International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi.) 

Intermittency and grid integration pose another hurdle. Unlike conventional power plants, renewable energy sources rely on weather conditions and can be intermittent in nature. Integrating fluctuating renewable energy into existing grids can be technically challenging and require significant upgrades. Balancing supply and demand becomes crucial, necessitating advanced storage solutions and flexible grid management systems. An area to watch in this regard is of course the further development of efficient battery and storage technologies.  

Land and resource requirements are also important considerations. Scaling up renewable energy may demand large land areas for installations like solar farms or wind turbines. This can lead to conflicts over land use, environmental impacts, and potential disruptions to ecosystems. Concerned stakeholders are working to find hybrid and shared use of land for both agriculture and solar. For example, the BRE National Solar Centre together with Dr. Scurlock of the National Farmers Union (UK) has published an agricultural good practice guide to highlight options for the agricultural sector. More recently, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writing for the New Scientist highlighted the benefits of agrivoltaic farms, including less heat stress for grazing animals, more grazing time, and more efficient renewable energy with lower overhead costs. Careful planning and inclusion of the environmental and social factors must remain a key part of the process to ensure efficient and beneficial combined land use.  

For economies heavily dependent on fossil fuels, the transition to renewable energy will pose significant challenges. Rapid changes could result in job losses and economic upheaval in some regions. However, thoughtful and strategic transition plans, strong political will and support mechanisms, including reskilling and education, will assist affected communities in transitioning to alternative industries, ensuring a just and equitable transition. 


Political will for a global renewable energy target 

Achieving a global renewable energy target requires strong political will and international cooperation. Negotiating and reaching consensus among nations with diverse interests, varying levels of development, and geopolitical tensions is complex and linked to uncertainty. Balancing the needs of developed and developing countries, as well as addressing historical emissions and financial responsibilities, further adds to the complexity. Political will and diplomatic efforts are essential in overcoming these challenges and fostering collaboration toward achieving a collective global goal. 

Political momentum 

Several countries have come out in favour of a global renewables target ahead of the COP28 discussions. In April at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, European Commission President Ursula on der Leyen called for global targets on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Germany´s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, mirrored President von der Leyen´s language at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin in May. At the G7 discussions in Japan, the G7 ministers agreed for the first time on joint targets for the expansion of renewable energies and to the accelerated phasing-out of fossil energy sources, including that no new coal-fired power plants may be built. 

While public statements in support of a global renewables target are positive, the road to a binding agreement is long.  

A global renewable energy target, if effectively implemented, holds immense potential for addressing climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and fostering sustainable development. However, it is crucial to recognize the challenges associated with a target, including cost implications, intermittency issues, land requirements, transition challenges for fossil fuel-dependent economies, and the need for global cooperation. By considering both the advantages and disadvantages, policymakers can shape effective strategies that accelerate the global transition to renewable energy while minimizing potential drawbacks ensuring that the rights of future generations are considered and that no one is left behind.