IRENA: Double renewables, save over 4 million lives per year

Dolf Gielen (Photo: IRENA)

Doubling the global share of renewables by 2030 would dramatically decrease emissions harmful to human health, saving up to 4 million lives per year by 2030, according to a brief released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

IRENA’s brief ‘The True Cost of Fossil Fuels: Saving on the Externalities of Air Pollution and Climate Change’ quantifies the social, economic and environmental costs related to fossil fuels.

It finds that doubling the share of renewables by 2030 would decrease harmful emissions from pollutants such as ammonia, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and sulphur dioxide by 82%, 33%, 27% and 12% respectively.

This reduced air pollution would result in savings of up to $3.2 trillion per year by 2030 due to the reduction of health-related costs, according to IRENA.

Dolf Gielen, Director of IRENA’s Innovation & Technology Centre, said: “We are already seeing renewables compete head-to-head with traditional fuel sources and win. When all the related costs and benefits are considered, renewables become an even more attractive option. In order to understand the true cost of energy, and make policy decisions accordingly, the external costs associated with fossil fuel use must be incorporated into energy prices.”

According to the brief, the largest air pollution savings would come from the power sector, mainly due to reduced coal use.

In absolute terms, IRENA states, China, India, Indonesia and the USA would accrue the greatest health savings, along with all developing countries where the traditional use of bioenergy would be phased out.

Under current national policies and plans, demand for fossil fuels will grow 40% between 2010 and 2030, increasing current rates of indoor and outdoor air pollution.

IRENA posits that doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix however, would reduce the use of coal, oil and natural gas by 36%, 20% and 15% respectively.

“Today, four dollars are spent to subsidize the consumption of fossil fuels for every one dollar spent to subsidize renewable energy. With oil, gas and coal prices currently at historic lows, it is now easier than ever for governments to correct this problem. This new brief helps illuminate the real cost of energy, and in doing so, encourage the adoption of enabling policies to boost renewables deployment,” concludes Gielen.

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