Updates on countries engaged in deep decarbonization and rapid shift to renewable energy

A fifth of the world’s electricity production in 2012 came from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. The International Energy Agency estimates this could rise to a quarter of the world’s production by 2020.

Note: I picked “over 80%” just for emphasis – I was surprised by the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa such as Zambia where hydropower is a big part of the energy generation mix. You can see a map with values for all countries with available data here.

Global investment in renewable energy hit a record high of $286 billion last year, more than double the amount committed to fossil fuel power plants.

  • China.  In China, coal consumption fell in 2015 for the second year in a row, while clean energy investment soared to a record high of $111 billion, marking an annual increase of 17 percent. In March, the country revealed its 13th Five-Year Plan, the economic and social development blueprint for the next five years, which lays out targets and measures to achieve its Paris Agreement pledge.  The plan includes a target for China to reduce its carbon intensity 48 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, exceeding its original target of a 40-45 percent reduction by that year. The blueprint is being turned into action, as China issued new directives to curb coal power plants construction and boost renewable energy generation. China’s vision of a more sustainable economy based on services, innovation, and more advanced, efficient manufacturing is starting to come true: the service sector now accounts for more than half of GDP and continues to grow at a faster pace than manufacturing.
  • France.  The Conseil Superieur de l’Energie (CSE), has increased draft government targets for renewable energy.  The French government’s ambitious renewable energy proposal calls for solar capacity to nearly triple and onshore wind capacity to more than double by 2023. The energy law also stipulates that 40% of French power should come from a renewable source by 2030.  The amended draft decree was approved by the CSE, and now contains plans to boost onshore wind capacity from around 15,000MW end 2018 to up to 25,000 by 2023. For solar, targets increased from 10,200MW by end of 2018 to 30,000MW by end of 2023. In addition, modest targets for a few 100MW of other clean energy technologies such as geothermal electricity, biogas and floating offshore wind, were also approved.
  • India, which shares the ambition for sustainable development, was among the top 10 countries in renewable energy investing for 2015, with investment of $10.2 billion, 22 percent more than the year before. This year, India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy approved six new solar park projects. There are 33 solar parks across 21 Indian states under development. Together, they will create an aggregate capacity of 19.9 gigawatts (GW), edging the country towards its goal of 100 GW solar photovoltaic power generation by 2022.
  • The United States is making important progress as well. Solar and wind accounted for two-thirds of all new electric power plants built in the United States in 2015, and no new coal power plants are expected to be built this year.  Cheap and plentiful natural gas, as well as an oversupplied market of inexpensive coal have led to multiple coal industry bankruptcies.  Employment has long been on the wane as well.  In Appalachia, for example, one study puts coal employment at a peak of 130,000 in 1940, dropping to 14,000 by 2014 even though output increased.  For oil and gas: in terms of active drilling rigs, the US is now at its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1944.  The current total of 440 includes 351 oil rigs and 89 gas rigs, down 78 percent from a peak of 1,609 in 2014.  (http://cleantechnica.com/2016/04/18/solar-cell-efficiency-up-gas-coal-and-oil-down) In February, 17 governors from both Republican and Democratic parties pledged to accelerate state effort to boost renewables, build better electricity grids and cut emissions from transport – suggesting a shift in U.S. public opinion.  In a joint statement, the United States and Canada committed to significantly cut methane emissions from existing oil and gas systems by 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. Three weeks later, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China jointly committed to formally join the Paris Agreement as soon as possible this year. Together, the two countries represent 38 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions according to the UNFCCC, more than half of the 55 percent of global emissions required to bring the Paris Agreement into force. The fact that these top emitting countries are on board sends a strong signal to others to formally join the group. (The agreement also requires that at least 55 countries join.)
  • Canada is decarbonizing their grid.  There are carbon taxes already in BC and Alberta and cap and trade systems in Ontario and Quebec which cover the large majority of the populace. And there are few consumption subsidies for fossil fuels. Canada is #5 in the world per capita for wind energy.  Ontario shut down coal generation.   The Quebec Government wants renewable energy to meet 61% of Quebec’s needs by 2030 (it currently stands at a little more than 47%). Quebec wants to reduce fossil fuel usage, particularly in transportation. Measures will include the electrification of transportation (Quebec has half of Canada’s electric cars), the use of natural gas in trucking and the expansion and increased use of public transit (e.g., Montreal’s subway is the third busiest in North America after New York and Mexico City).  The Quebec Government wants to eliminate the use of thermal coal and reduce by 40% the quantity of oil products used in the province. Quebec wants to improve by 15% the efficiency with which energy is used. To achieve this Quebec will assist households and industry to reduce energy consumption and expects to spend $4 billion doing so over the next 15 years. Among other things building codes will be modified and energy efficient renovations encouraged.
  • Morocco recently switched on the first phase of its concentrated solar power plant, which will be the world’s largest solar plant.
  • Mexico conducted its first Clean Energy Auction, which is allowing solar power to grow 521 percent in Mexico this year.
  • Tonga.  The Pacific island nation of Tonga’s new national climate change policy aims for 100 percent renewable energy and 30 percent of land utilized for agroforestry or forestry by 2035.
  • Argentina intends to enhance its national climate plan.
  • Indonesia intends to enhance their national climate plans
  • Papua New Guinea became the first country to officially submit its Nationally Determined Contribution.
  • Saudi Arabia government’s official strategy is to massively increase solar, wind, and biomass by 2040, with 20% of energy from solar alone.
  • Fiji, Marshalls Island, Palau, Tuvalu and Switzerland have all completed their domestic approval processes to formally join the Paris Agreement on April 22.

Regional/State/Province and City Efforts

Australia, the city of Adelaide committed to become the world’s first carbon neutral city

Mato Grosso do Sul, the sixth largest state in Brazil, also announced its pursuit of becoming a carbon neutral state.  One of the country’s largest agricultural producers, MS is one of only four Brazilian states to set a concrete emissions-reduction target through its 2014 state climate policy. It’s now committing to the most ambitious state initiative on decarbonization in Brazil through the “MS carbon neutral” initiative.

San Diego, California, plans to make the transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, while the U.S. state of Oregonpassed legislation to end coal use and increase renewable energy to 50 percent by 2040

Business Action

Businesses, banks and investors are increasing their climate action role.  Microsoft partnered with the state of Virginia and Dominion Virginia Power to invest in a 20 megawatt (MW) solar energy project. Crédit Agricole, one of the largest banking groups in Europe, recently said it aims to achieve 100 percent renewable energy in global operations by the end of 2016. India’s TATA Motors and technology giant Hewlett-Packard are among the new recruits of theRE100 initiative since Paris, pledging to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. A consortium of financial institutions led by Bank of America has pledged $8 billion to scale up climate change investment

Originally published on WRI by Ranping Song and Cynthia Elliott