Energy lies at the core of the climate challenge — and holds the key to its solution. Most greenhouse gasses responsible for causing global warming are produced by burning fossil fuels for electricity and heat.
Scientists widely agree that it's crucial to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half by 2030. They also emphasize the importance of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 to address the severe consequences of the climate crisis. This requires shifting away from fossil fuels and investing in clean, accessible, affordable, sustainable, and reliable alternative energy sources.
Renewable energy sources are naturally replenished and emit minimal greenhouse gasses and pollutants. Examples of renewable energy sources include the sun, wind, water, and waste.
What Is Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy refers to energy that comes from naturally regenerating sources. These energy sources are sustainable because they can be used without running out of resources or causing major harm to the environment.
Examples of renewable energy include wind power, solar power, bioenergy (generated from organic matter known as biomass) and hydroelectric, including wave and tidal energy.
Renewable energy sources have many advantages. Crucially, they reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help mitigate climate change, but they also promote energy independence, and create jobs. They also contribute to a more sustainable and resilient energy system.
3 Key Facts to Know About Renewable Energy
- Iceland is the world leader, with 87% of its energy generated from renewable sources; followed by Norway and Sweden.
- Nearly 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels for energy.
- Renewable energy is increasing but still only makes up about 4% of total global energy consumption.
How Many People Could Switching to Renewable Energy Impact?
Renewable energy has the potential to impact the entire global population of over 7.88 billion people. It could positively impact billions of lives by addressing the climate emergency, and improving energy access — about 770 million people right now don’t have access to electricity.
It also can enhance public health, create job opportunities, and promote sustainable economic development. It offers a cleaner, more sustainable, and equitable future for people around the world.
Over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions result from burning fossil fuels for energy. That makes transitioning to clean energy sources a vital step in slowing emissions.
Who Would See the Most Benefits from Switching to Renewable Energy?
The benefits of renewable energy are widespread and would impact many groups of people.
Many communities in low-income regions, particularly in rural and remote areas, lack access to reliable electricity. About 770 million people around the world lack access to electricity — mainly in Africa and Asia. Renewable energy offers a huge opportunity to bridge this energy gap and ensure electricity for those who currently lack it.
Making electricity generated by renewables more accessible — for example, through off-grid solar power solutions — will play a vital role in ending poverty. These off-grid renewable energy solutions include solar lighting, solar home systems, and mini-grids. They can bring clean and affordable electricity to underserved communities, and also improve quality of life, education, health care, and economic opportunities.
Plus, the renewable energy sector is a growing source of job prospects across skill levels. It benefits both those seeking employment and those already working in related industries. According to a recent study, investing in distributed renewable energy systems generates 30 times more jobs compared to a comparative investment in fossil fuels.
What’s the Connection Between Poverty and Renewable Energy?
This is a biggie. We can make real strides in ending extreme poverty by making sure that everyone can rely on clean energy from renewable sources to fight energy poverty, which is the lack of access to electricity.
Addressing crucial areas like health care, food security, clean water, and education is necessary to combat extreme poverty — and each of these areas are included in the UN roadmap to ending extreme poverty, the UN Global Goals.
But access to electricity is a big first step forward across all these other areas. It is described as a catalyst issue — something necessary to make other things happen.
What Action Can We Take Now for Renewable Energy?
We urgently need to shift away from fossil fuels and transition to clean, renewable energy sources to prevent the most severe impacts of the global climate crisis.
There is some good news — for example, as highlighted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, renewable energy technologies (like wind and solar) already exist and, in most cases, are cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, the bulk of new energy generation capacity — 83% — added in 2022 came from renewable energy sources, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). So the world is moving in the right direction.
Yet there’s a whole lot more still to do.
According to The World Counts, it’s expected that renewables will generate about 30% of the world’s electricity by 2024. But electricity only makes up about 18% of total world energy — with much of the remaining 82% being heat and transportation.
So we need to see a massive increase in renewables for providing heat and transportation, alongside that increase in renewable generation for electricity.
We can all do our bit — particularly those in high-income countries where our carbon emissions are highest — to transition our own lives away from fossil fuels, and generally reduce our own carbon footprints.
But what we really need is investment in the shift to renewable energy — including from governments, philanthropists, and the private sector — and greater ambition and willpower from our world leaders who have the power to make the change happen on a global scale.
You can join the movement of Global Citizens who are taking action right now to urge world leaders and the private sector to ditch fossil fuels in a move to a low-carbon future, and step up to ensure a just transition to renewable energy can be achieved. Get started by heading here to take action.