Record growth in renewables, but world missed historic chance for a clean energy recovery, says latest REN21 report

Despite the promise of a worldwide green recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this historic opportunity has been lost. REN21’s Renewables 2022 Global Status Report (GSR 2022) sends a clear warning that the global clean energy transition is not happening, making it unlikely that the world will be able to meet critical climate goals this decade. The UWEA traditionally provided expert support to the REN21 platform preparing the Report.

The second half of 2021 saw the beginning of the biggest energy crisis in modern history, exacerbated by the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 and unprecedented global commodity shock. In response to the energy crisis, most countries have gone back to seeking out new sources of fossil fuels and to burning even more coal, oil and natural gas,” says Rana Adib, REN21 Executive Director.

According to the 17th edition of GSR 2022, the overall share of renewables in the world’s final energy consumption has stagnated – rising only minimally from 10.6% in 2009 to 11.7% in 2019 – and the global shift of the energy system to renewables is not happening. In the electricity sector, record additions in renewable power capacity (314.5 gigawatts, up 17% from 2020) and generation (7,793 terawatt-hours) were unable to meet the overall increase in electricity consumption of 6%. In the transport sector, where the renewable share went from 2.4% in 2009 to 3.7% in 2019, the lack of progress is particularly worrying, as the sector accounts for nearly a third of global energy consumption.

In COP26 in November 2021, a record 135 countries pledged to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, only 84 of these countries had economy-wide targets for renewable energy, and only 36 had targets for 100% renewables. For the first time in the history of UN climate summits, the COP26 declaration mentioned the need to reduce coal use, but it failed to call for targeted reductions in either coal or fossil fuels. Most of the increase in global energy use in 2021 was met by fossil fuels, resulting in the largest surge in carbon dioxide emissions in history, up more than 2 billion tonnes worldwide.

The year 2021 also marked the end of the era of cheap fossil fuels, with the largest spike in energy prices since the 1973 oil crisis. By the end of the year, gas prices reached around ten times. The GSR 2022 documents that despite renewed commitments to climate action, governments still opted to provide subsidies for fossil fuel production and use as their first choice to mitigate the effects of the energy crisis. Between 2018 and 2020, governments spent a whopping USD 18 trillion – 7% of global GDP – on fossil fuel subsidies, in some cases while reducing support to renewables (as in India).

This trend reveals a worrying gap between ambition and action. Countries with higher shares of renewables in their total energy consumption enjoy greater energy independence and security.

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