Steve Howard, Ikea's sustainability guru, once argued that 100 percent sustainable was an easier goal than 80 percent or 50 percent, because once you set your mind to an ambitious goal, everyone gets on board and does what needs to be done. Plus, you no longer have to spend time and resources investing in an out-of-date paradigm that will eventually be phased out anyway.
That might be true of a company like Ikea, but does it still hold true for entire countries? And what about the whole world? Well, we may be about to find out.
A new report from Greenpeace called Energy [R]evolution 2015, created in collaboration with the Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics, Systems Analysis & Technology Assessment at the German Aerospace Center, sets out a truly ambitious scenario: a 100 percent renewable energy powered global economy by 2050. And that doesn't just mean zero carbon electricity grids. It means everything—transportation, electricity, heating etc,—coming from entirely renewable resources, even without the need for nuclear power. (This last point will be controversial in many circles.)
Now, I haven't had the chance to dig through the report in detail—and am not qualified to judge how realistic it is anyway—but I will say that Greenpeace has a (perhaps surprisingly) good track record when it comes to predicting renewables growth—beating out the much more conservative predictions made by the IEA, Goldman Sachs or the US Department of Energy in terms of accuracy.
The authors of the Greenpeace report are by no means the only people beginning to think in terms of 100 percent renewables. We already have roadmaps for how every state in the US could achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, the Australian Capital Territory just committed to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2025, and New Zealand will be at 90 percent renewables by the same date.
Of course possible and probable are not the same thing at all. From a strong global deal at the Paris climate talks to ambitious commitments from businesses and communities, and from local, national and international government bodies alike, there are many preconditions for Greenpeace's scenario to pan out.
The costs will be tremendous. But the benefits will be too—not least because, authors claim, the report provides a pathway for keeping total cumulative emissions between now and 2050 to 667 gigatonnes, a figure comfortably within the 1,000 gigatonne range considered "safe" by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Oh, and it would create jobs and cut the catastrophic levels of air pollution-related deaths too.