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Economy

Why Renewables Aren’t Expanding Fast Enough

On green energy investment, Biden’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, and heavy batteries

Why Renewables Aren’t Expanding Fast Enough
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: In Chile, Santiago’s 11-day heatwave has ended • Storm Kathleen could bring gale-force winds to the UK • New York City is littered with downed trees after a strong storm.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden administration unleashes $20 billion for green banks

Vice President Kamala Harris and EPA administrator Michael Regan are in Charlotte, North Carolina, this morning to announce the award of $20 billion dollars for climate mitigation and adaptation projects. This is the official launch of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, a $27 billion program that was part of the Inflation Reduction Act — in fact, it is the single largest and most flexible program in the IRA, reported Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo. The money will go to eight organizations and help “create a national clean financing network for clean energy and climate solutions.” The general idea is to funnel the money into green lending programs, colloquially known as “green banks,” that will offer low-cost loans and other financing options for consumers, community organizations, businesses, and local governments. Projects financed through the fund could do everything from residential electrification, to green public transit, to solar on schools, to storm water management.

2. Report finds the world isn’t expanding renewable capacity fast enough

A big report out today finds that even though the world is breaking records for new renewable energy installations, we’re not adding enough capacity to limit the global temperature increase to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The findings, which come from Paris-based think tank REN21, show renewable capacity additions shot up by 36% last year, to about 473 gigawatts (GW). This is a record-breaking increase, but well below the 1,000 GW of new capacity needed each year to meet climate commitments. “We aren’t even reaching 50% of what’s needed annually,” said Rana Adib, REN21's executive secretary. “Governments have committed, but this needs to be followed by action.” The problem is that energy demand is increasing, and the current rate of renewables expansion isn’t keeping pace due to a lack of investment in grid infrastructure. Global investment in renewables needs to total at least $1.3 trillion every year through 2030 – last year it sat at $623 billion. “We have the technology,” Adib said. “But we need the political will.” The report calls for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and prioritizing financing the energy transition in developing countries.

3. Forest loss declines in Brazil and Colombia, but climbs elsewhere

Tropical forest loss in Brazil and Colombia declined significantly last year compared to 2022, according to the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Review. Brazil’s forest loss dropped by 36% to its lowest level since 2015; Colombia’s plummeted by 49%. Both trends coincide with new leadership, showing that political will can create meaningful change. But “the frontiers of forest loss are shifting,” WRI said. The progress was offset by increases in forest loss elsewhere, especially Bolivia, Laos, and Nicaragua.

World Resources Institute

Bolivia’s losses came mainly from fires that were initially set by humans but that grew out of control in exceptionally hot and dry conditions. Agriculture expansion is another major driver of losses. Overall, tropical forest loss last year hit 3.7 million hectares, which is like losing 10 soccer fields per minute. This deforestation resulted in 2.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. For comparison, that’s about half the total annual emissions produced by the entire United States. The report also looks at tree cover outside the tropics, and finds that Canada’s devastating wildfires increased global tree cover loss by 24%.

World Resources Institute

4. Majority of recent CO2 emissions came from 57 big producers

About 80% of carbon dioxide emissions produced since 2016 came from a mix of 57 countries and businesses, according to a new analysis from London-based think tank InfluenceMap. Most fossil fuel companies (and especially state-owned ones) have ramped up production in the years since the Paris Agreement was signed. The top three emitters between 2016 and 2022 were Saudi Aramco, Russia’s Gazprom, and Coal India. “We’e seeing an increase in concentration in terms of a smaller number of producers being linked to an even larger portion of global fossil CO2 emissions,” InfluenceMap’s program manager Daan Van Acker toldAxios.

5. Stellantis CEO: EV batteries need to be 50% lighter

EV batteries will have to lose about half their weight over the next decade in order to limit their environmental impact, the CEO of automaker Stellantis said yesterday. Speaking at the company’s Freedom of Mobility Forum, Carlos Tavares said battery packs can weigh about 1,000 pounds and require huge amounts of raw materials. This isn’t the first time Tavares has lamented bulky batteries, and the company has said it aims to reduce the weight of its own EV batteries by 50% by 2030. Last year Stellantis invested in Lytten, a company developing lithium-sulfur batteries.

THE KICKER

“They’re essentially livestock.” –Eliza Grames, an entomologist at Binghamton University, says an increase in beehives tended to by well-meaning beekeepers is producing “domesticated” honeybees that threaten North America’s native bee species.

Yellow

Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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