The rise global investment in clean energy has not yet removed the threat from fossil fuels

Contributed by Jim Hayes

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), annual investment in clean renewable energy is at last higher than investment on fossil fuel driven energy.  Investment in renewable energy is expected to reach a cumulative $US4.3 trillion this year.

For every $US1 invested in fossil fuels, $US1.7 is now being invested in renewable energy.

But it’s not all good news. Fossil fuel usage continues to rise. Investment in it is expected to rise 6 percent to $US1.45 trillion this year alone. Progress towards reaching zero net emissions is not being achieved, despite the persistent warnings that climate change is already with us and accelerating. Coal use is expected to rise by 10 percent.

Image from petrmalinak / Shutterstock

The bulk of the emissions are coming from advanced economies. There is still a considerable amount being contributed by China. Together, they produce around 90 percent of all carbon emissions.

The difference with China is that its per capita amount ranks at 28 in the list of carbon emitters. This 7.38 tons of CO2 emissions per person, compared with 15.52 tons for the United States, according to the Oxford based Worldometer reference website. One reason is China’s large agricultural sector, still involving a large part of the population. Another is government policy and action.

Whether the measure should be total distribution or distribution per capita is a hot topic. The west insists on former and many other countries on the other, arguing that the emphasis on national rather than per capita distribution means that pressure is put on poorer nations to shoulder a greater proportion of the burden, despite their having contributed the least to the problem. It allows western nations with smaller populations to evade their own responsibility.  

Nevertheless, with a population of over 1.4 billion, China’s carbon footprint remains large. On the other hand, China is easily the biggest investor in renewables, accounting for over half of the global total. and has ambitious targets towards reaching net zero emissions, investing heavily in clean energy, transport, and the low carbon use economy.

In 2017 China announced it would invest $US360 billion in renewable energy by 2020 and scrap plans to build 85 coal-fired power plants. The target was passed ahead of time. Another $US546 billion in 2022 towards clean energy production. This is four times the $US141 billion committed by the United States. Europe has committed $US180 billion.

Photo by Liu Zheng/Getty: Arial view of the massive Jiangxia Tidal Power Station near Taizhou City in China’s Zhejiang Province is an example of investment in renewable energy

China has also committed $US79 billion for investment in low carbon manufacturing, which is 90 percent of the global total. And there is the progress in the electrification of transport systems and road using vehicles.

The major responsibility to improve performance obviously lies with the advanced western nations. Efforts to impose the burden on others must stop and serious decarbonisation efforts made. Blaming China is a tool used to evade taking responsibility.

Australia must wear its own responsibility. We top the list for per capita contribution to global emissions at 17 CO2 tons. Energy generation remains far too dirty, Fossil fuel hungry transport runs rampant, the renewable economy lags far behind, and Australia is a leading exporter of carbon fuels.

The will of the political leadership remains far too weak. They accept the danger of climate change in words and still offer no more than token window dressing in response – well short of meeting their responsibility.

Countering this is a massive movement of all concerned. This will continue and grow still stronger, and it will prevail in the end. The question is how much damage will be caused along the way, and whether we will reach the tipping point, to a catastrophe on a scale we can hardly imagine.

The sooner change comes the better.

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