When President Barack Obama signed his historic climate change agreement with China last year, there were those among his opponents who felt he had given away too much without asking for enough in return. Never mind that the U.S. has been emitting carbon far longer and has already had the opportunity to bring most of our population out of poverty (at least compared to China).
Yes, the U.S. set a 26 to 28 percent reduction target for 2025, while China has promised to achieve a declining emissions trajectory starting in 2030. But let’s look at what China is doing. Last year, it spent $83 billion on renewable energy. That’s not only a 39 percent jump over last year and a new record, but it’s also twice what we spent in the States.
China is not alone in this. Countries all across the developing world are making huge investments in renewables. In some cases, they are leapfrogging traditional utility infrastructure, much as they did with cell phones.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the combined clean energy investment of developing countries, including China, Brazil, India and South Africa, totaled $131 billion in 2014, only 6 percent less than the combined total for developed countries. The gap is narrowing and is expected to close soon. Then, we will be the ones doing the chasing.
By 2030, $7 trillion will be invested in new energy systems, two-thirds of which will come from developing countries. Over 60 percent of that new generation capacity will be in the form of carbon-free renewables.
The total OECD energy capacity projected by 2030 is 3,700 gigawatts. By contrast, non-OECD capacity is expected to reach nearly twice that total, or 7,000 GW. The report identifies Kenya, Peru, Taiwan, Morocco, Vietnam, Pakistan and the Philippines as the top attractors of clean energy investment.
What’s the motivator? It’s the fact that 1.3 billion people in the developing world have no access to reliable electricity. Half of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. Renewable energy, which can be installed in smaller increments, is likely the most direct path for getting all of these people out of poverty and into the modern era.
If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, we’d better hope that most of that energy is in the form of renewables. If not, our goose will certainly be cooked.
Pew Research projects a 594 percent increase in renewable energy deployment between 2012 and 2030. Compare that to a 69 percent growth in nuclear, and a 30 percent growth in fossil fuels over the same period.
That’s good news, and it is accompanied by more good news that should relieve some anxiety about China. In response to its horrific air pollution crisis, China is cutting coal consumption quite aggressively. Data from Greenpeace shows an 8 percent drop in coal use during the first four months of this year when compared to last year.
Unfortunately, that good news is put into perspective by a recent Scripps Institute report showing that thinning of the Antarctic ice sheets is happening at an accelerating pace. The race goes on, and each passing day brings decisions being made at all levels of society that could tip the scales in one way or another.
Image credit: MainstreamRP: Flickr Creative Commons
RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org