5 Reasons 2016 Marks the End of Fossil Fuel Era

January 15, 2016

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2015 was a pretty amazing year for the climate movement, and a turning point that could mark the end of the fossil fuel era and the beginning of a transformation in the way we generate and use energy. We saw the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan limit power plant carbon pollution, the end of the Keystone XL Pipeline, amazing progress at the Paris UN Climate Conference (COP21), and, of course, the 785,000-people strong Global Climate March. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

We know it’s past the time for New Year's cheers. But indulge our past-due revels, and take a look at five more reasons the fossil fuel dinosaur is finally getting its overdue curtain call.


1. World Leaders Agree to Clamp Down on Carbon at the COP21

Of course the list needs to kick off with the COP21, the largest gathering of heads of state ever. After marathon negotiations, we got a historic agreement to reduce carbon emissions and keep additional warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal that will require getting off fossil fuels very, very soon. How the world achieves that benchmark is up to each country— but whatever tactic and strategy is deployed, almost all efforts will center around transitioning away from fossil fuels with a massive ramp up of clean tech. Then you have to add in the $100 billion a year commitments to help developing countries adapt to the worst impacts of climate change, and leapfrog right past damaging fossil fuels. In business terms, COP21 was the signal investors needed to put their dollars behind clean tech.


2. Divestment Reaches an All-Time High

Divestment is the global movement of cities, public institutions, private companies and more to rid their portfolios of investments in fossil fuels— and send a clear message to fossil fuel companies that their business model is, well, a fossil. That movement reached an all time high leading up to COP21, adding commitments from groups representing over $1 trillion in just one month, bringing the total to over 500 institutions representing a new record $3.4 trillion. And with climate change becoming a very real source of investor risk, the math on fossil fuels is becoming stark. Put your money on dinosaur energy sources and you might lose big time – “up to 45 percent in an equity investment portfolio value,” according to a recent University of Cambridge study. Investors like to talk about the long-term cycles in stock values. But as we all know, there simply isn’t a long-term future with fossil fuels— and as portfolio investors around the world wake up to that reality, we’re expecting to see fossil fuel stock prices hit rock bottom.


3. Renewables Keep Breaking Records

Even before COP21, renewable energy sources were experiencing an all-time high level of investment and deployment around the world. The toward clean energy has been gathering momentum for years now, reaching a tipping point in 2015 when the cost of clean energy became on par or cheaper than grid electricity, and new renewable power capacity surpassed coal, natural gas and oil combined. Add in a mix of policy incentives and mandates across the world, and you get what we can honestly call a transformation (here in the US, the cost of residential solar installations dropped 73% since 2006, and 2016 is looking to be just as progressive).

Now, even as global oil prices tumble to the lowest point in 11 years, renewable installations are booming around the world. A quick snapshot shows China anticipating the doubling of wind power in the next decade, India planning on 175 gigawatts of added renewable power by 2022, and African nations anticipating producing twice as much electricity from renewables than all current sources combined by 2030. With the 1.5 degree goal agreed upon in Paris, we’re expecting to see renewable power investment, innovation and mandates continue to break records.

4. Green Jobs are Booming

A reliable refrain of climate skeptics is the toll that a shift to renewable energy, and away from fossil fuels, will take on the economy, and particularly on jobs. But according to a new Duke University study, here in the US, the growth of clean energy jobs is now outpacing job losses from the coal industry. Even before the landmark COP21 agreement, that upward trend was seen around the world— the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates there were 7.7 million renewable energy jobs globally at the end of 2014, an 18% bump up from 2013. All around the planet, nations that have already committed to renewables are scaling up their efforts, while other countries get policies going for the first time. In the US, a staggering 1.2 million green jobs were posted between January and March of 2015— that’s so many that industry watchdogs are arguing for a universal definition of exactly what defines a “green job,” and how to track those jobs. That’s a good problem to have!


5. Energy Becomes a Personal Resource

Since the first electrical grid was turned on, fossil fuels have been used to buffer a complex and increasingly inefficient system for powering appliances, lights and the expanding universe of household gadgets. The advent of affordable solar is flipping the typical electrical utility paradigm on it’s head, with homeowners and community solar users spearheading a shift away from the grid-tied model. Now, with companies like Tesla pushing the limit of battery size and efficiency, making and storing your own electricity (with the goal of powering up an electric car), is getting closer to reality. And while this is all mostly happening on a middle-to-upper-class budget currently, modeling a pathway to decentralized power generation will also illuminate the push for something even bigger— national and global energy justice.