Businesses accelerate progress towards renewables in drive for 1.5C world

Last year marked a "dramatic upsurge" in corporate demand for renewable energy, according to new research by The Climate Group, which suggests that many big-name businesses are exploring alignment with a 1.5C trajectory.

The organisation has today (15 November) published its annual progress and insight report for its RE100 initiative, revealing that the scheme’s membership now stands at 155 companies across 140 global markets.

Launched in 2014, the initiative encourages businesses of all sizes and sectors to publicly commit to source 100% renewable power, either from onsite arrays or through power purchase agreements (PPA).

The latest progress report reveals that the amount of renewable electricity sourced by RE100 members increased 41% year-on-year in 2017, with the group now collectively sourcing 188TWh of clean power annually.

According to The Climate Group, this figure is greater than the electricity demand of Argentina and Portugal combined, with Walmart again ranking as the biggest electricity user to have made the commitment.

A further key finding of the report is that RE100 members now leverage a combined annual revenue of $4.5trn or 5% of global GDP, making the group a powerful source of financing for clean energy infrastructure.

“With so much depressing news at the moment, here we have refreshing, positive story of how ambitious corporate action is changing the world for the better,” The Climate Group’s chief executive Helen Clarkson said.

“We congratulate RE100 members on the progress they are making by building renewables into their growth strategies, and engaging policymakers and suppliers. This is what all leading multinationals should be doing.”

Companies to have joined the initiative since January 2018, such as Vodafone, Sony and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), have not yet been included in the report.  The document comes as The Climate Group is aiming for 500 RE100 members by 2020.

The bigger picture

Analysing businesses across four continents, the report identifies Japan, Australia, Mexico, Turkey and Taiwan as “growth hotspots” for corporate renewable energy projects, with the IT sectors in these nations leading progress.

While RE100 members were, on average, sourcing 38% of their electricity from renewable sources in 2017, IT companies averaged 73%, the report notes.

Among these firms is HP, which sourced 50% of its electricity globally from renewables in 2017, up from 16% in 2016. The move saw HP surpass its interim target of 40% by 2020 three years ahead of schedule.

“In light of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming issued in October 2018, it’s clear that businesses must accelerate their transition to renewable energy sources as a way to reduce the devastating consequences of climate change,” HP’s chief sustainability and social impact officer Nate Hurst said.

“We are committed to reaching our goal of using 100% renewable electricity in our global operations and urge other companies to aggressively set and pursue their own renewable energy goals, thereby ensuring a sustainable future for everyone.” 

A 1.5C world?

The Climate Group noted in the report that the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report on global warming are likely to spur further corporate action on renewables in the coming years.

Released last month, the report issued a stark warning that the global temperature increase will hit 1.5C by 2030, and 3-4C by the end of the century.

In order to prevent this temperature increase, which will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people, the report concluded that the world would have to become carbon-neutral by 2047.

Business and policymakers have already moved to up their sustainability ambitions in the wake of the report, with BT, for example, having committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.

“As clean energy costs continue to plummet globally, and business leaders are becoming ever more aware of the risks of a high-carbon business model, it’s clear that renewable power is the future for global business,” the CDP’s director of science-based targets and renewable energy Alberto Carrillo Pineda said.

“RE100 members are leading the market by showing it’s possible to go 100% renewable, and fast. This is precisely the kind of ambition the recent IPCC report on limiting climate change to 1.5°C demands.”

Sarah George

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