Clean energy keeps setting records, cleaner vehicles are coming to major markets around the world, and more surprising headlines as Trump continues to try to destroy U.S. climate leadership.
This is our third international climate action update, in which we take a moment each month to remember that Donald Trump is not the president of the world—and celebrate other countries’ progress in the global battle against climate change. And check out our series on what is happening within the United States.
While President Trump considers his “no-brainer” decision to stay in the Paris Agreement, citizens around the world continue to demand stronger action on climate change and clean energy with huge climate marches around the world. And markets keep shifting toward low carbon, with some of the largest sectors shifting dramatically without much fanfare.
Marches around the world
In 2014, more than 400,000 people took to the streets in New York to urge leaders to adopt a strong international agreement. World leaders listened to these voices―and the tens of millions more around the world―when they adopted the Paris Agreement, which contains emission reduction commitments from all key countries. After the agreement was gaveled home, the focus turned quickly to the domestic actions required to ensure that countries could achieve their targets. So when the People’s Climate March reconvened to mark the 100th day of Trump’s presidency, voices around the world weren’t focused on telling leaders to agree to more climate action. Instead, the 200,000 in Washington, D.C., and the hundreds of thousands more in cities around the world were reminding world leaders that they must follow through on the Paris Agreement. They were telling leaders that they weren’t going to let politicians get in the way of a better future for our children and grandchildren.
China moving aggressively on electric vehicles
One of the biggest drivers of climate change is oil consumption for transportation, so a focus on passenger vehicles is key to ensuring that the world addresses the issue. There are some promising signs emerging in the demand for oil in the transportation sector. In 2016, China had more than one million electric vehicles―a growth of 87 percent from the previous year―as NPR has reported. And this number is projected to skyrocket in the coming years. By early next year, China will require that at least 8 percent of every automaker’s vehicles are electric. And car makers both in China and around the world are paying attention. As Trevor Worthington, the vice president of product development at Ford Motor Co. in Shanghai, notes, “China’s been pushing very aggressively to move to a greater mix of electrified vehicles.”
And China isn’t alone, as other major markets are expected to continue to see huge growth in electric vehicle sales. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, electrics are projected to account for 35 to 47 percent of new cars sold around the world by 2040 (see figure). And one major oil company has even more aggressive projections. The chief energy economist for Total is saying that electric vehicles may account for almost one-third of new car sales by the end of the next decade.
And while electric vehicles are projected to make up a growing share of new car sales around the world, the efficiency of all kinds of new vehicles (including gasoline-powered vehicles) will continue to improve thanks to vehicle efficiency standards in three of the largest markets in the world: China, Europe, and the United States (see figure).
Huge coal shifts happening: Surprising headlines from Europe and India
In recent years we have seen a huge shift in the global coal demand. If you pick up marketing materials from the coal industry, you will likely see figures showing that coal demand will continue forever. Some coal analysts might be partially honest and recognize that China’s coal consumption has peaked, but they probably won’t capture the scale of the transformation in China or admit that major shifts are occurring in other countries as well. So it is quite impressive to read headlines saying: “For First Time Since 1800, Britain Powered Its Homes and Industries Without Coal” or “Europe’s Coal Power Is Going Up in Smoke―Fast.” After all, Britain is in many respects the historic foundation of coal power plants, as the Industrial Revolution spurred a massive expansion of coal use. And it isn’t just in Europe that the coal landscape is shifting quite quickly. These headlines from India show some emerging trends that would have surprised people a year ago: “India’s Energy Landscape Is Rapidly Changing” and “India May Never Need Another Coal Plant: TERI.” In recent years, India has been one of the fastest-growing markets for new coal-fired power plants, so shifts there would mark another important transformation.
Renewable energy sets records around the world for cheap electricity
It is getting hard to keep track, but every time we turn around another renewable energy project is breaking a record. Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance has a good breakdown of the record-setting numbers that have been announced in the past year (see figure). In March 2016, a solar project in Mexico shocked analysts with a record-low price of $3.60 per kilowatt-hour (without subsidies); even that price was eclipsed just a few months later. And the latest news is about a solar bid in India that came in below the previous record-low bid that had been set only two months before. If Guinness World Records had a chapter on renewable energy costs, it would have to tear up that page every couple of months.
In other news, Chile just announced that 17 percent of its energy comes from non-conventional renewable energy, growing from only 7 percent three years ago. Chile’s minister of energy is optimistic that the country will reach its commitment to 20 percent non-conventional renewable energy by 2025. Many experts say that Chile will achieve and even surpass this goal five years earlier, and that the nation is well on track to reach its long-term goal of sourcing 60 percent of energy from renewables by 2035.
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