Renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world's energy supply within four decades - but only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power, according to a landmark report published on Monday.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of the world's leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations, said that if the full range of renewable technologies were deployed, the world could keep greenhouse gas concentrations to less than 450 parts per million, the level scientists have predicted will be the limit of safety beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.
Investing in renewables to the extent needed would cost only about 1% of global GDP annually, said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC.
While this report focuses on climate change, don't forget about the important global economic implications of weaning ourselves away from oil as well. If developing countries employ more renewable capacity to meet their energy needs, and we get ourselves off our oil addiction, the result will certainly bring more stability to the world's economy. Oil market speculators and the threat of trouble in the Middle East won't have the ability to bring us all to our knees again.
Renewable energy is already growing fast – of the 300 gigawatts of new electricity generation capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009, about 140GW came from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, according to the report.
The investment that will be needed to meet the greenhouse gas emissions targets demanded by scientists is likely to amount to about $5trn in the next decade, rising to $7trn from 2021 to 2030.
Ramon Pichs, co-chair of one of the key IPCC working groups, said: "The report shows that it is not the availability of [renewable] resources but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades. Developing countries have an important stake in the future – this is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment."
Will we see the policy needed to make this happen? Good question. It comes down to whether or not we want to lead the world in renewables, or whether we want to play catch-up - because other countries are certainly moving to invest and grow in this area as quick as they can.
For the United States, well, we may need to see a few new faces in Congress first...