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China expected to reach renewable power target 4 years ahead of schedule, IEA says

December 1, 2021, 3:02 PM UTC

Hello from London.

There isn’t often good news in the world of climate coverage—even breakthroughs at COP26 came heavily couched and qualified—but the IEA’s annual renewable energy report came with a surprisingly optimistic message: real momentum is building.

A few takeaways:

  • Over the next five years, renewable power is expected to account for nearly 95% of the increase in global power capacity.
  • Renewable capacity itself is forecast to increase by about 60% between 2020 and 2026, to over 4600 GW. “This is equivalent to the current global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined,” the report notes.
  • China will account for an estimated 45% of that growth, the IEA predicts. And China is expected to meet its own near-term targets—to reach 1 600 GW of wind and solar power by 2030—a full four years earlier than expected.
  • On the current trajectory, the EU is also expected to outstrip its current goals for renewable power capacity by 2030, too.
  • And finally, even as the rising cost of (literally) everything threatens to pause the downward trend in the price of renewable energy, solar power is still on a tear—capacity is expected to grow by 17% just in 2021, to reach a fresh annual growth record.

Meanwhile, electric vehicles, too, are gaining momentum—current estimates put the proportion of EVs as a total share of cars sold globally at 10%, up from just 2% in 2019.

“So all these elements—the renewables, batteries, electric cars… pace of electrolyzer growth—gives us one important hint,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “A new global energy system is emerging. And it is very clear.”

Of course, these are projections, conditional on commitments being kept and momentum being sustained. And even incredible growth is up against a harrowing timeline for decarbonizing the world’s energy systems. But just as we talk about tipping points in the global climate, we’re also looking for tipping points in decarbonization, and signs that the ship has irrevocably started to turn. Let’s hope we’re finally seeing it.

Katherine Dunn
katherine.dunn@fortune.com
@katherine_dunn

CARBON COPY

McDonald's carbon menu

McDonald's—like other fast food chains—has made pledges to tackle its carbon emissions, including its most emissions-intensive signature item: beef burgers. Cows are a major source of emissions, but a decade after the company formed a roundtable to tackle beef emissions, absolute emissions have gone up. “There does not seem to be any proactive involvement or serious investment by McDonald’s to support its suppliers or make significant changes in its beef supply chain,” said one agribusiness expert. Bloomberg 

A floating nuclear plant 

The world's first floating nuclear power plant—off the coast of a small Arctic town in Russia—is both a local source of heat year-round, and a way for the country to pursue its Arctic ambitions, including exploiting warming ice in order to open up the Northern Sea Route linking Europe to Asia. FT

Lost chance

For years, successive U.S. presidents had intervened to maintain a relationship with the mineral-rich Congo, home to some of the world's most important cobalt deposits—a key mineral in the energy transition. But when Chinese companies started buying up cobalt mines towards the end of the Obama administration, the U.S. government didn't intercede—despite the pleas of diplomats and local experts alike. Now, a New York Times investigation tracks the battle over the future of the energy revolution. NYT

Tree Equity 

When we talk about trees and climate change, often it's in the context of deforestation, or else offsets. But consider the words "leafy neighborhood" and you can edge towards one of the live-saving, and deeply unequal, roles trees play right now: as a source of shade when the temperature climbs and climbs. New Yorker 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Food prices are already at a 10-year high. There’s no relief coming in 2022, a grim new report says by Katherine Dunn

Why disruptive climate protests are set to grow, both on the streets and in the workplace by David Meyer

The corporate world’s race to net-zero hinges on tiny villages in the DR Congo by Leticia Labre

Not just meatballs and DIY furniture: Ikea could be your next renewable energy supplier by Katherine Dunn

CLOSING NUMBER

7.7%

The rate of 'divorce'—the scientific term—among former breeding pairs of albatrosses on the Falkland Islands by 2017, up from a 3.7% average. Albatrosses are, in stable times, very monogamous birds: year-to-year, a couple meets up, lovingly does a courtship dance that, over time, becomes more and more synchronized, and makes babies. But warming seas and unpredictable weathers are straining those relationships and knocking couples out of sync, leading to a wave of divorces, according to a new study. NYT

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