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UN: 2015 Set Renewable Energy Investment Record

UN: 2015 Set Renewable Energy Investment Record

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  • UN finds nations spent $286B on renewables last year;
  • Developing nations outspent developed for first time;
  • Total more than doubled amount spent on fossil fuels.

by MICHAEL ARMSTRONG | April 16, 2016

Spring certainly is the time for renewal, but new data from the United Nations suggests that the rest of the year is not lacking for energy, either.

The United Nations Environmental Programme's (UNEP) this spring has released Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016, its latest annual report, which reveals unprecedented growth in renewable energy spending internationally. Developed and developing countries reported that a combined total of $286 billion were used to finance such projects in 2015, surpassing the previous high mark of $278.5 billion, set in 2011.

“Renewables are becoming ever more central to our low-carbon lifestyles, and the record-setting investments in 2015 are further proof," said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director. "Importantly, for the first time, renewables were higher in developing countries than (in) developed.”

Renewable energy, excluding large hydro*, made up 53.6% of new power generating capacity in 2015, overtaking non-renewable sources for the first time. New renewable energy generation prevented the emission of an estimated 1.5 gigatons of CO2 last year.

This report was commissioned by UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economic (DTIE) in cooperation with Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance. It was produced in collaboration with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“Despite the ambitious signals from COP 21 in Paris and the growing capacity of newly installed renewable energy, there is still a long way to go,” cautioned Dr. Udo Steffens, president of Germany's Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. Renewable energy is still only a fraction of global electricity generated, at 10.3%, he added.

Developing countries, led by populous behemoths China and India, have now overtaken developed countries in funding renewable energy. Developing nations invested $156 billion in renewables last year, up 19% from 2014, while developed countries invested $130 billion, an 8% decline from 2014.

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Explained Steffens, “Coal-fired power stations and other conventional power plants have long lifetimes. Without further policy interventions, climate altering emissions of carbon dioxide will increase for at least another decade.”

Still, many "policy interventions" may soon be in the offing, as representatives of 195 nations are expected to reconvene in Paris next week to formally sign the new COP 21 global climate accords, symbolically set for Earth Day, April 22.

Developing story: Last year's data for the first time showed more renewables growth in Third World nations.

Developing story: Last year's data for the first time showed more renewables growth in Third World nations.

*UNEP defines "renewable energy" as coming from biomass, waste-to-energy, biofuel, geothermal, wave and tidal, wind, solar, and small hydropower (1 Mw - 50 Mw). Large hydropower projects over 50 Mw are not included, since they employ older technology and can span multiple years.

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