Which countries are leading the charge in renewable energy investment and generation?

None of the top five carbon dioxide emitters have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050

A worker produces solar photovoltaic modules used for solar panels in Huaian city, in eastern China's Jiangsu province. AFP
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As the world seeks to tackle climate change, countries are making significant strides in the transition to renewable energy.

But fossil fuels are expected to remain dominant for several decades to come.

Nations will invest $1.73 on clean energy out of $2.8 trillion in total energy investments this year, according to the International Energy Agency. For every dollar spent on fossil fuels, $1.7 will now go to clean energy. Five years ago this ratio was 1:1.

Worldwide, 107 gigawatts in renewable energy capacity will be added this year, the largest increase ever. Total capacity is expected to hit 440 gigawatts by the end of 2022 – the entire installed capacity of Germany and Spain together, according to the IEA. The gains follow growing policy support, concerns around energy security, and the improved competitiveness of clean energy.

Ahead of the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai, The National answers five important questions about the overall state of play for renewable energy production, use and investment, as well as which countries are leading the way.

How do countries measure up?

Brazil has consistently topped global league tables in primary energy use from renewable sources, according to data from the Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy.

As the graph above shows, it is one of only about a dozen countries where renewables accounted for at least 30 per cent of primary energy consumption in 2021. Its neighbours Colombia and Ecuador as well as nations in Scandinavia and central Europe were among the others.

When considered by region, Asia-Pacific is the largest consumer of both oil and coal, although it also has the largest share of hydroelectric and renewable energy. In the Middle East, natural gas has edged ahead of oil as the primary fuel source, but the region has a long way to go in most other respects.

Which countries have installed the most renewable energy power capacity?

The top three countries for installed renewable energy power capacity in 2021 were China, the US and Brazil, according to Irena. China significantly outstrips the rest of the world with a capacity of around 1,206 gigawatt hours, with the US in second place at 368.3 gigawatt hours and Brazil at 507.6 gigawatt hours. India, with 313 gigawatt hours, is in fifth place after Canada (433 gigawatt hours).

The term refers to the maximum net generating capacity of power plants and other installations that use renewable energy sources to produce electricity.

Which countries emit the most carbon dioxide?

The world’s two largest economies make up about 45 per cent of global emissions. At 30.9 per cent, China accounts for about a third of all global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the IEA. The US emits 13.5 per cent.

None of the top five emitters – the others include the EU (7.5 per cent), India (7.3 per cent) and Russia (4.7 per cent) – have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050.

About 96 countries have made net-zero pledges and just six – Bhutan, Suriname, Sao Tome and Principe, Guyana, Gabon and Vanuatu – have achieved net zero. All account for less than 0.1 per cent of global emissions.

How much are countries spending on adding renewable energy?

The world’s nations have allocated approximately $1.34 trillion for clean energy investment support since 2020, according to the latest IEA Government Energy Spending Tracker. An additional $900 billion is set aside for short-term energy affordability measures.

The US is the largest spender at $559.5 billion. The country aims to establish dominance in the new clean energy economy, spurred by President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. Germany follows at $339 billion, spending most on energy affordability. Several smaller countries make the top 20, including Ireland ($33.6 billion) and the Czech Republic ($27.9 billion).

Where are we today and what is the outlook?

Oil, gas and coal account for the major share of global energy usage today and will remain dominant until 2035, according to the IEA’s October World Energy Outlook.

Renewable energy growth means the total share of fossil fuels could peak before 2030, edging downwards from 80 per cent to 73 per cent of the total energy mix.

Yet, as things stand, continued high demand for fossil fuels keeps the Paris Agreement goal of keeping average global temperatures below 1.5°C out of reach.

Renewables will require another 20 years to become the single largest energy source.

Even by 2050, combined demand for the three main fossil fuels will likely remain 1.5 times higher than for renewables.

Updated: November 06, 2023, 1:45 PM