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We Need New Action on Renewable Electricity at Rio+20

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Since 2002 the amount of wind, solar, and geothermal electricity in the energy mix throughout the world has risen from nearly non-existent levels to something that shows up in energy statistics.  Despite this important increase, these sources of electricity still count for a modest amount of the electricity in the world’s largest economies. So twenty years after the first Earth Summit in Rio, it is time that world leaders return to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Rio+20 Earth Summit and step up their game on renewable electricity.

Countries, companies, cities, and individuals need to commit to increasing the amount of electricity production from these sources so that they account for 15 percent of total electricity produced in 2020.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is releasing a new report — Delivering on Renewable Energy Around the World — which shows the progress of each of the G20 countries since 2002.  The report concludes that significant progress has been made since 2002 – when countries last met for an Earth Summit – but much more needs to be done. When leaders meet in Rio they can help unleash the potential of renewable electricity.

Some countries are rising to the top. As of 2011, the European Union (E.U.) has the most electricity produced from these sources, with Germany the most out of the G20 countries.  Other countries like the U.S., China, Mexico, and Brazil lag behind.  While all these countries have made important progress since 2002 they are still significantly behind other countries like New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, and Iceland (see map).

These rising trends are showing up in the investment in clean energy in each of these G20 countries.  Since 2002, the G20 countries have cumulatively invested over $860 billion in clean energy, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The majority of this investment has occurred in the E.U. ($291 billion), followed by the U.S. ($215 billion), China ($197 billion), Brazil ($52 billion), and India ($40 billion).

Progress since 2002, but not fast enough. Even with this important progress, the G20 countries aren’t on track to triple the amount of electricity produced from these sources.  On current trends, the G20 countries are on a trajectory to produce less than 4 percent of their electricity from these sources by 2015 and less than 6 percent in 2020.  So they have their work cut out to take these investments to the next level (see figure).

Countries can unleash even more at Rio+20. At the Earth Summit 2012, civic and corporate stakeholders must commit to do more to increase electricity production from renewable sources. While a global agreement to spur this deployment is certainly helpful, it is more important that these key actors come to Rio with individual commitments to increase the amount of wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, and wave power throughout the world to 15 percent of total electricity by 2020—more than doubling what is predicted under current trends.

  1. Targeted, short-term individual commitments that entail specific new laws, programs, and incentives that will enable them to meet their existing pledges, or details on new actions that they will implement with clear plans through 2015 at the latest. For example, countries could commit to passing laws to ensure that 15 percent of their electricity is produced from these renewable sources. Or, companies could commit to invest a certain amount of money in this effort.
  2. Commitments to work together, where appropriate, including sharing technical assistance and coordinating actions. These efforts should include a group of likeminded countries, companies, and Non-Government Organizations that commit to implement the necessary steps to close the gap between the current trend and the 15 percent target. These entities must commit to follow through so that Rio is not simply a one-off event.
  3. Provisions for monitoring and reporting to ensure that the commitments are delivered on the ground. These should entail specific timelines for each action and clear metrics for determining success.

Will these countries deliver on renewable electricity? With around one week before heads of government, CEOs, and other leaders arrive in Rio it is essential that they don’t arrive with an empty suitcase.  They better arrive with real commitments that help take renewable electricity to the next level.

* This report was co-written with Aaron Haifly, an intern with NRDC.

** Map produced by Philip Goo, NRDC.

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