This op-ed originally appeared in Le Monde. It is written by Pascal Canfin, WRI's Senior Advisor for International Climate Affairs and a former minister delegate with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ministers of Economy and Finance from around the world are gathering in Washington for the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Just 200 days before the Paris international conference on climate change, will the Ministers shift course and open their eyes to the new world that is emerging? Here are some questions that should help inform their thinking and discussions.
First, does renewable energy represent 20, 30 or 50 percent of new installed electricity generation capacity worldwide? The answer is 50 percent. This illustrates that we have entered a world where, for the first time, one new electron out of two is produced from renewable energy sources. And now that the curves are crossed, the sense of history is no longer in doubt.
Second, has the price of a solar panel been divided by 2, 6 or 8 times between 1990 and 2014? The answer is 8. In 2011 the South African government introduced competition between electricity producers using coal and those using renewables. In fewer than four years, the cost of wind energy fell by 42 percent, photovoltaics by 68.1 percent and concentrated solar power by 45.6 percent. Renewable energy programs have already helped South Africa save $440 million .
We are living at a time when renewables are competitive with fossil fuels for generating electricity – without public subsidies.
Earlier this year, Costa Rica went 75 days relying on renewable sources for 100 percent of its electricity generation and without resorting to nuclear. Developing countries can begin to imagine, in the energy field, the ability to switch directly to clean technologies like renewable energy by leapfrogging dirty, carbon-intensive electricity. This has already been done for telecommunications, bypassing fixed telephone lines and directly establishing mobile networks. Finance ministers from developing countries should not consider themselves the last ones to jump on the fossil fuels bandwagon, but rather potentially the first ones to be able to live without them.
The positive revolution of renewable energy can also accelerate the predicted decline of coal, the most polluting source of electricity. Air pollution has reached unbearable levels in major Chinese cities, especially because of coal plants, but its consumption decreased for the first time in 2014. A further reduction of about 10 percent was forecast for this year. Remarkably, in the first quarter of 2015, China’s coal imports fell by 42 percent due to reduced demand and air pollution controls. It is more and more likely that China - by far the world's largest coal consumer – could peak its coal consumption by 2020.
Let us ask a third and final question to the Finance Ministers: Over the last two years, while the stock market reaped significant gains, did the wealth of Australian coal companies, which mainly export their output to China, rise, stagnate or fall? The market capitalization of the largest companies speaks for itself: -42 percent for Aquila Resources, -67 percent for Whitehaven Coal and -80 percent for Yancoal. Beyond the moral issues related to the fact that the exploitation of fossil reserves is incompatible with the preservation of a sustainable world for future generations, now there are purely financial reasons to divest from coal as well.
This revolution is already underway. But it is still moving too slowly. Without a major boost, we cannot avoid the worst-case scenario: A world that is devastated by runaway climate change.
In Syria and Nigeria, climate change is already a “conflict multiplier,” according to the official designation of the United States Department of Defense. As President Hollande recently said at the United Nations in New York, there are already three times more climate refugees than refugees of armed conflicts. It is simply impossible to imagine a peaceful world amidst climate chaos. Can we honestly hope to promote development and economic well-being in an environment that is so degraded that people cannot produce food, suffer more frequent and intense natural disasters, and lack resources due to violent conflicts that destabilize entire regions?
Distinguished Ministers of Finance, Ms. Director General of the IMF, Mr. President of the World Bank, Treasurers, ladies and gentlemen: There are no trade-offs between climate change and prosperity. On the contrary, tackling climate change now is a condition for our prosperity. You have been entrusted to achieve this mission, and you must make the fight against climate change a top priority. Right Now.