As the world’s top carbon offenders attempt to one-up each other with commitments in Paris this week, one country is quietly snickering from the sidelines. That’d be Uruguay, which already sources a staggering 94.5% of its electricity from renewables.
Yes, you read that correctly, and no, I didn’t misplace a decimal. Uruguay used to be as oil-hungry as the rest of us, but over the past ten years, the country has managed to wean itself off fossil fuels without hiking consumer costs or relying on government subsidies. Renewable energy now accounts for 55% of Uruguay’s total energy output, compared with a 12% world average. What’s more, Uruguay has managed to foster a diverse mix of wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower industries, increasing its resilience to natural disasters.
What’s the 3.4 million-strong nation’s secret? No technological miracles—just decent natural conditions and a smart regulatory environment. Per The Guardian:
Along with reliable wind – at an average of about 8mph – the main attraction for foreign investors like Enercon is a fixed price for 20 years that is guaranteed by the state utility. Because maintenance costs are low (just 10 staff) and stable, this guarantees a profit.
As a result, foreign firms are lining up to secure windfarm contracts. The competition is pushing down bids, cutting electricity generating costs by more than 30% over the past three years.
The progress Uruguay has made toward decarbonising its economy is impressive, but this little nation’s far from finished. At the Paris climate summit this week, Uruguay offered one of the most ambitious carbon pledges to date, promising to cut emissions by 88% by 2017, compared with the country’s 2009-2013 emissions levels.
While others nations split hairs over percentages and five year commitments, the world would do well to take a good look at Uruguay. Decarbonising won’t be easy, but it isn’t impossible, either.
Top image: Tumbling Run / Flickr