The Earth is edging ever closer to a point of no return, with a joint statement issued during the COP24 climate conference calling for “decisive action” on climate change within the next two years.
Most nations have taken on the challenge to switch from a reliance on fossil fuels to a sustainable energy system – some faster than others.
A recent Carbon Brief report written by E4tech and Imperial College London and published by Drax has ranked 25 major world economies on their efforts (or lack thereof) in the transition to clean energy.
Green and clean
Clean electricity underpins almost all efforts to shift towards a decarbonized future. In 2017, the global average carbon intensity of electricity was 450 gCO2/kWh. Of the 16 major countries below that average, the United Kingdom showed the fastest transition to decarbonization.
Despite consuming the most electricity per year, China and the United States (6,500 TWh and 4,250 TWh respectively) also reduced their carbon intensities in 2017. Indeed, if they could both match the reductions made by the UK, global emissions would fall by 9%.
Renewable ambitions are limited in part to the generating and storage capacities of each country. In the last decade, an extra 1,125 GW of capacity has been installed worldwide. Germany leads the way, having installed almost 1 kW of renewable capacity per person in the given time period, and ranking 1st and 3rd for solar and wind capacity per person respectively. And Germany’s push towards renewables is part of a wider trend within Europe, with eight of the top 10 countries coming from the region – only Canada (5th) and Australia (10th) are from outside the region.
Saying goodbye to coal
Renewable energy is not a new concept. But during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, the use of renewables like wind and water fell by the wayside because they were less efficient than coal and later oil in a world focused on progress.
Since then coal has remained the most polluting fuel for generating electricity. And in order to achieve a future in which we limit global warming to less than 2°C we’ll need to abandon it as an energy source.
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In terms of which countries get the lowest percentage of their electricity from coal, Europe leads the way once again, boasting six of the top 10 nations.
Norway sits in first place with 0%. At the other end of the spectrum, three of the six countries at the bottom of the list are from Asia (Indonesia, China and India), although South Africa, which uses coal for almost 90% of its electricity, is placed last among the 25 nations assessed by the report.
When it comes to the transition from coal-based electricity production in the last decade, the pattern follows a similar trend to the change in carbon content; the UK and Denmark are ahead of the field. But the USA and China are making progress – both are in the top five, with 18% and 14% decreases respectively.
The rise of EVs
At an individual level, as more people attempt to reduce their carbon footprints global sales of electric vehicles (EVs) are rising rapidly. Over 4.5 million electric vehicles are on the road, 1.2 million of which were purchased in 2017.
Despite this increase, only one country has plug-in vehicles reaching 10% of new sales. Norway has a staggering 47% EV share, reaping the rewards of having offered EV incentives since the 1980s.
In total figures, China leads the way with over 2 million EVs on the roads, as well as 150,000 charging points. The US takes second place with 1 million, which means that China and the US alone make up almost three-quarters of the worldwide EV market.
India, Indonesia, and China are responsible for the three largest increases in energy intensity of transport, with China topping out at 75%. Despite this, China and Indonesia also top the list of countries with the biggest percentage change in energy intensity of their industries, seeing a 30% drop within the last decade.
As technology and public interest evolve, more governments are taking the advantageous steps of implementing energy efficiency policies in addition to improving renewable capacity and decarbonizing electricity generation.
But it’s clear the world still has a long way to go to achieve the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Climate scientists estimate that if we don’t take drastic action to curb global warming before 2035 it’s unlikely that we will be able to limit global temperature rise to under 2C.