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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Speech by Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete at the General Asembly of IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency): Ministerial Roundtable "Concerted action towards RE deployment"

Abu Dhabi, 16 January 2016


Director-General Amin,

Executive Secretary Figueres,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends,

Let me start by saying how delighted I am to be here today alongside such a distinguished group of renewable energy leaders.

I can think of no better way to kick start 2016 with the same people who helped make last year a defining one for our climate and clean energy future.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of many of you in the room today, there is no doubt that the Paris Agreement is more ambitious than many of us expected. 

For the first time in history it gives us a clear pathway to limit the global temperature rise below the danger zone. And it does so by allowing the participation of everyone, and by giving the right support to the most vulnerable.

Let me just put that progress into context. Just look back five years ago to Copenhagen:

  • We had no target for limiting the global temperature 
  • We had only a small handful of countries with renewable energy targets
  • And we didn’t even have IRENA up and running


Five years on, with 164 countries around the world having renewable energy targets, there is no doubt: IRENA has come of age and so have renewables.

Five years on we see the developing world embracing renewable energy.

I was delighted that in Paris Europe threw its weight behind the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative to increase access to clean energy and reduce energy poverty in a region in which 600 million people still have no access to electricity. 

The role of renewables in the Paris Agreement


And five years on, in Paris, the world recognisedthe intrinsic link between an energy sectoraccounting for two thirds of global emissions and our global climate goals. 

And that really is timely because the simple truth is that renewables have been proven to reduce emissions.

In one year alone, renewable energy helped to reduce Europe's emissions by the equivalent of Spain's annual emissions. 

But just like the rest of the world, we now have to step up our efforts to make sure we meet our renewables commitments. For the European Unionthat means a minimum 27% share of renewables in our energy system by 2030.

The good news is that half of the 185 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)submitted before COP21 included explicit energy targets. And most of those focused on increased renewables deployment. 

That's a big step when you consider that the new Chinese and Indian targets alone would triple global renewable energy production, if they were achieved.


And that shows us two things:

Firstly, it shows the scale of the potential that renewables hold in the next 15 years.

And secondly, it disproves one of the oldest myths: that economic growth needs CO2 emissions.


The business case

For years we were told that switching to renewables didn’t make economic sense. 

Today, we know the opposite is true. Let me give you four reasons why:


  • Firstly, Investment is up – by 17% globally in 2014 and 4% in 2015. Only last year, clean energy attracted a record $329bn in global investment, nearly six times its 2004 total. For Europe only, $58.5billion were invested last year.
  • Secondly, over the 18 months to the end of 2015, the price of Brent crude plunged 67% from $112.36 to $37.28 per barrel, and much lower today. The investment figures I just mentioned are a stunning riposte to all those who expected clean energy investment to stall on falling oil and gas prices.
  • Thirdly, costs are falling – down 80% and 33% for solar and on-shore wind respectively since 2009.
  • And finally, renewables create jobs - Solar PV deployment now creates twice the number of jobs per unit of electricity generation compared with coal and gas. 


That is why in Europe we see our commitment to cutting emissions by at least 40% by 2030 as an important opportunity to transform our economy.

But we have a lot more work to do to get there.

That is why our new €315 Billion European Fund for Strategic Investments, launched last year, has made renewable energy projects a priority.

We are talking of major projects like the Galloper Wind Farm in the UK, where €300m of EU investment is helping to build an offshore wind farm capable of providing enough clean energy to supply over 300,000 homes from 56 of the world’s largest wind turbines. 

The NER 300 programme is another meaningful contribution from the EU: this program aims at co-financing demonstration projects for environmentally safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) and innovative renewable energy. 

It is funded from the sale of 300 million allowances of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS): this is a blatant implementation of the polluter-pays principle.

Already 38 renewable energy projects have been selected. The awarded funding totals €2.1 billion, ranging from €5 million to €300 million per project, which is expected to leverage approximately €2.7 billion of private investments. 


The European Commission is also supporting the development of the next generation renewable electricity technologies through its research programme Horizon2020. 

Calls for proposals in several key priority areas for renewables are currently ongoing with up to €355 million set to be made available in 2016.

The idea is to use public money as leverage for private sector investment in clean energy.

These projects are so important when you consider that $13.5 trillion of investment in clean energy technologies and energy efficiency will be needed to implement the INDCs.

Around half of all INDC submissions include explicit energy-focused targets, either alongside a GHG target or as a stand-alone goal. The most common energy-related measures are those that target increased renewables deployment (40% of submissions), or improved efficiency in energy use (one-third of submissions).

So the challenge is immense. But the good news is that the appetite from the private sector is there.

You just have to look at the RE100 project that has seen the world's biggest multi-nationals committing to using 100% renewable electricity.

But to see more of that we need to make renewable energy investment a low-risk, high reward proposition for the private sector. Our job as policy makers is to provide a stable policy platform to make that happen.


Putting renewables at the heart of Europe'senergy system

That is why the main focus of our upcoming proposals for a new electricity market design will bethe seamless integration of renewables into our energy system.

Our vision is simple: we want an energy market that works for renewables, not vice-versa.

For that we need a more flexible system with new liquid and integrated short-term markets helpingwind and solar become active market players. Thatwill help renewable energy producers take responsibility for managing their own production and keeping it in balance.

And crucially we want to empower consumers to take ownership of the energy they produce and consume. That means incentivizing citizens, energy co-operatives and local authorities to become active market players in their own right.

Alongside that we are currently reflecting on how we can improve our renewable energy legislation to make sure that we meet our 2030 targets cost-effectively. 

Our proposals later this year will focus on increased regional co-operation and ensuring that renewables become the driving force of our energy system.


Now, on the way to COP22, we need to gather ALL forces. 

The role of IRENA in that respect is instrumental. The European Commission is very supportive of the proposed 2016-2017 Work Programme: it is a timely opportunity to move the Paris Agreement to the next phase, setting the global renewable energy agenda and establishing a blueprint for action. 

To seize this opportunity, the targets, plans and investments must be translated into national policies and implementation strategies. As for COP21, IRENA's mobilizing clout is very welcome to help capitals and rally efforts to a successful Marrakech COP22.


Ladies and Gentlemen, All of that is achievable but we have to start now.


There is no doubt that Paris was a great success. But now we must follow with actions.

And just like in Paris, the boldest measures will be the safest. That is why today I am calling for IRENA to become the High Ambition Coalition for Renewable Energy through a bold implementation of its 2016-2017 ambitious work program. 

To make sure that we deliver the clean energy transition our climate and economy need.

Thank you.


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