Faster and Cleaner: Decarbonization in the Power and Transport Sectors Is Surpassing Predictions


The transition from fossil fuels to cleaner, safer energy technologies is underway and offers hope for limiting warming to 2°C. This study by ClimateWorks, NewClimate Institute, Ecofys, and Climate Analytics compares past projections with actual developments in renewable energy, coal consumption, and passenger vehicles.

Key findings

  • Decarbonization of the power sector is happening faster than predicted. Reduced coal use in the European Union and the United States, along with peaking of coal consumption in China (now predicted to occur between 2016 and 2020), indicates a continued shift in the world’s largest economies to cleaner sources of energy and toward a 2°C-compatible pathway.
  • Wind and solar capacity growth has dwarfed forecasts. Driven by policy and technology maturation, renewable energy deployment is taking place at significantly higher rates than previously projected. Actual installed capacities of renewable energy have surpassed projections at rates that were not deemed feasible a decade ago.
  • Passenger vehicle fleets are one-sixth less carbon- intense in key economies than they were in 2005. The U.S. and the E.U. have increased their fuel economy by implementing standards that led to a decrease in emissions per vehicle kilometer of almost 18 percent over the past decade. A global 2°C-compatible rate of improvement for the next decade could be reached if best-practice emissions standards for passenger vehicles were implemented more broadly.
  • Market penetration of electric drive vehicles (EDVs) is exceeding predictions. EDVs could become a fundamental driver for further lowering light-duty vehicle emission intensities. From January 2012 to September 2015, the total global stock of light-duty electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles grew six fold, from 170,000 to 1,000,000. Continued deployment will support an even larger decrease in transport emission intensities toward a zero-carbon energy future.
  • Despite significant progress, much more needs to be done. These real-world developments, even coupled with fully implemented pledges from some 160 nations made in advance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, would likely only limit warming to just below 3°C—not enough to avoid many of the severe impacts of climate change. Additional collective action on decarbonization is necessary.

Given the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is critical to understand where policymakers, businesses, and the social sector should focus their efforts. Drivers of energy demand and the carbon intensity of producing the energy required to meet that demand can be determined at the sector level. Emissions at this level provide meaningful insight into trends that can be used to identify and design the most effective sets of policies.

By taking a detailed look at projections and real-world progress in the power and transport sectors in China, the E.U., India, and the U.S., this study reveals faster-than- expected decarbonization. Moreover, after demonstrating how projections routinely underestimate the impact of policy and technology, it suggests that supportive policy signals from a transformative coalition of countries can accelerate market uptake and technology development, spur transformation on a scale unachievable by unilateral national action, and catalyze global decarbonization.

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