Opinion / 06 Apr, 2018
Clean Energy Transition Needs to Accelerate

By Erik Solheim, Patricia Espinosa and Nils Stieglitz

We are in the middle of a global renewable energy revolution. Investments in renewables have continued to increase each year, led largely by developing countries, and since 2004 the world has invested US$2.9 trillion in green energy sources. The annual Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report illustrates these changes in the global energy map and the road ahead in securing the future of our planet.

The central message of the report is clear. The renewable energy market continues to make remarkable progress. Last year was the eighth in a row that global investment in renewables exceeded US$200 billion. Much of this can be attributed to falling costs for solar electricity, and to some extent wind power, which continues to drive deployment. More electricity generated by renewable sources in 2017 signals strong commitment to addressing climate change and reducing carbon emissions.

The world installed a record number of new solar power projects in 2017, more than net additions of coal, gas and nuclear plants put together. China has been the leading destination for renewable energy investment, accounting for 45 percent of the global investment. The country has initiated 13 offshore wind projects, which in addition to reducing emissions will generate jobs in all stages of construction and operation. This demonstrates the potential for renewable energy to fight climate change and boost economic growth. Fossil-fuel-rich countries are also showcasing strong progress. The United Arab Emirates, for example, recorded an astounding 29-fold increase in renewable energy investment in 2017.

While there is much to be positive about, it is also evident that we need to continue to push the acceleration of the global renewable energy revolution. In 2017, just 12.1% of global power came from clean sources, 1.1% more than in 2016. Climate change is moving faster than we are. Last year was the second hottest on record and carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. In electricity generation, new renewables still have a long way to go. While renewable generating costs have declined, and governments are phasing-out fossil fuel subsidies– they amounted to a total US$260 billion in 2016 -- the transition needs to accelerate and be complemented by strong private finance that can make sure this global momentum continues.

In 2015, countries adopted the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the central goal of which is to limit the rise in global average temperatures to well below two degrees Celsius and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. We will only achieve this goal by substantially and rapidly reducing use of fossil fuels. We hope this report will encourage investors, businesses and governments to accelerate action in favour of our planet, and power us towards a sustainable future for all.

Erik Solheim is the head of UN Environment, Patricia Espinosa is the Executive Secretary UNFCCC, Nils Stieglitz is the President of Frankfurt School of Finance & Management

This article was published on 5 April 2018 as a foreword of the The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018 report.