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A decade of renewable energy investment, led by solar, tops USD 2.5 trillion

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Global investment in new renewable energy capacity over this decade — 2010 to 2019 inclusive — is on course to hit USD 2.6 trillion, with more gigawatts of solar power capacity installed than any other generation technology, according to new figures published today.

According to the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2019 report, released ahead of the UN Global Climate Action Summit, this investment is set to have roughly quadrupled renewable energy capacity (excluding large hydro) from 414 GW at the end of 2009 to just over 1,650 GW when the decade closes at the end of this year.

Solar power will have drawn half — USD 1.3 trillion — of the USD 2.6 trillion in renewable energy capacity investments made over the decade. Solar alone will have grown from 25 GW at the beginning of 2010 to an expected 663 GW by the close of 2019 — enough to produce all the electricity needed each year by about 100 million average homes in the USA.

The global share of electricity generation accounted for by renewables reached 12.9 per cent, in 2018, up from 11.6 per cent in 2017. This avoided an estimated 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions last year alone — a substantial saving given global power sector emissions of 13.7 billion tonnes in 2018.

Including all major generating technologies (fossil and zero-carbon), the decade is set to see a net 2,366 GW of power capacity installed, with solar accounting for the largest single share (638 GW), coal second (529 GW), and wind and gas in third and fourth places (487 GW and 438 GW respectively).

The cost-competitiveness of renewables has also risen dramatically over the decade. The levelized cost of electricity (a measure that allows comparison of different methods of electricity generation on a consistent basis) is down 81 per cent for solar photovoltaics since 2009; that for onshore wind is down 46 per cent.

“But we cannot afford to be complacent. Global power sector emissions have risen about 10 per cent over this period. It is clear that we need to rapidly step up the pace of the global switch to renewables if we are to meet international climate and development goals.”

2018 sees quarter-trillion dollar mark exceeded again

The report, released annually since 2007, also continued its traditional look at yearly figures, with global investment in renewables capacity hitting USD 272.9 billion in 2018.

While this was 12 per cent down over the previous year, 2018 was the ninth successive year in which capacity investment exceeded USD 200 billion and the fifth successive year above USD 250 billion. It was also was about three times the global investment in coal and gas-fired generation capacity combined.

The 2018 figure was achieved despite continuing falls in the capital cost of solar and wind projects, and despite a policy change that hit investment in China in the second half of the year.

A record 167 GW of new renewable energy capacity was completed in 2018, up from 160 GW in 2017.

Jon Moore, Chief Executive of BloombergNEF (BNEF), the research company that provides the data and analysis for the Global Trends report, commented: “Sharp falls in the cost of electricity from wind and solar over recent years have transformed the choice facing policy-makers. These technologies were always low-carbon and relatively quick to build. Now, in many countries around the world, either wind or solar is the cheapest option for electricity generation.”

The report also tracks other, non-capacity investment in renewables — money going into technology and specialist companies. All of these types of investment showed increases in 2018. Government and corporate research and development was up 10 per cent at USD 13.1 billion, while equity raised by renewable energy companies on public markets was 6 per cent higher at USD 6 billion, and venture capital and private equity investment was up 35 per cent at USD 2 billion.

Overall renewable energy investment, including these categories as well as capacity investment, reached USD 288.3 billion in 2018, down 11 per cent on the record figure of USD 325 billion attained in 2017.

“The technologies to use wind, sun or geothermal energy are available, they are competitive and clean. Within 10 years Germany will produce two-thirds of its power based on renewables. We are demonstrating that an industrial country can phase out coal and, at the same time, nuclear energy without putting its economy at risk” said Svenja Schulze, Germany’s Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

“We know that renewables make sense for the climate and for the economy. Yet we are not investing nearly enough to decarbonize power production, transport and heat in time to limit global warming to 2C or ideally 1.5C. If we want to achieve a safe and sustainable future, we need to do a lot more now in terms of creating an enabling-regulatory environment and infrastructure that encourage investment in renewables.”

“It is important to see renewables becoming first choice in many places,” said Nils Stieglitz, President of Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. “But now we need to think beyond scaling-up renewables. Divesting from coal is just one issue within the broader field of sustainable finance. Investors increasingly care whether what they do makes sense in the context of a low-carbon and sustainable future.”

China still leads, but renewables investment spreads

China has been by far the biggest investor in renewables capacity over this decade, having committed USD 758 billion between 2010 and the first half of 2019, with the U.S. second on USD 356 billion and Japan third on USD 202 billion.

Europe as a whole invested USD 698 billion in renewables capacity over the same period, with Germany contributing the most at USD 179 billion, and the United Kingdom USD 122 billion.

While China remained the largest single investor in 2018 (at USD 88.5 billion, down 38 per cent), renewable energy capacity investment was more spread out across the globe than ever last year, with 29 countries each investing more than USD 1 billion, up from 25 in 2017 and 21 in 2016.

The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report is commissioned by the UN Environment Programme in cooperation with Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and produced in collaboration with BloombergNEF. The report is supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety.

UN Environment

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Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments

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coronavirus people

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.

Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”

 Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.

 Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:

 Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.

 It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.

 Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.

 Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.

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Sweden: Invest in skills and the digital economy to bolster the recovery from COVID-19

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Sweden’s economy is on the road to recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, yet risks remain. Moving ahead with a labour reform to facilitate adaptation in a fast-changing economic environment, and investing in digital skills and infrastructure, will be crucial to revive employment and build a sustainable recovery, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Sweden.

The pandemic triggered a severe recession in Sweden, despite mild distancing measures and swift government action to protect people and businesses. GDP fell by less than in many other European economies in 2020, thanks to reinforced short-time work, compensation to firms for lost revenue and measures to prop up the financial system, but unemployment still rose sharply. Solid public finances provided room for further stimulus in 2021 to buttress the recovery.

 The Survey recommends maintaining targeted support to people and firms until the pandemic subsides, then focusing on strengthening vocational training and skills and increasing investment in areas like high-speed internet and low-carbon transport. Addressing regional inequality, which is low but rising, should also be a priority as the recovery takes hold.

 The Survey shows that Sweden has been among the most resilient OECD countries in the face of a historic shock. Yet, like other economies, it faces challenges from demographic changes and the shift to green, digital economies. Investments in education and training, and labour reforms along the lines negotiated by the social partners, will support job creation and strengthen economic resilience. Building on Sweden’s leadership in digital innovation and diffusion will also be key for driving productivity.

 After a 3% contraction in 2020, interrupting several years of growth, the Survey projects a rebound in activity with 3.9% growth in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022 as industrial production resumes and exports recover. The recovery in world trade is bolstering the Swedish economy, however the country remains vulnerable to potential disruptions in global value chains.  

The pandemic has aggravated a mismatch in Sweden’s job market, with unfilled vacancies for highly qualified workers coinciding with high unemployment for low-skilled workers and immigrants. The public employment service needs strengthening to provide better support to jobseekers, including immigrants and women, and labour policies should strike the right balance between supporting businesses and workers and supporting transitions away from declining businesses towards growing sectors.

A rising share of youths and older people in the population, especially in remote areas, is affecting the finances of local governments, which provide the bulk of welfare services. Strengthening local government budgets and ensuring equal welfare provision across the country will require providing tax income to poorer regions more efficiently and raising the economic growth potential across regions through investments in innovation. Improving coordination between government entities and reinforcing the role of universities in local economic networks would help achieve that aim.

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Fewer women than men will regain work during COVID-19 recovery

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Generations of progress stands to be lost on women and girls' empowerment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: ILO

Fewer women will regain jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recovery period, than men, according to a new study released on Monday by the UN’s labour agency.  

In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs. 

This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago. 

This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts. 

The ILO paper suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing. 

Regional differences 

Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the study revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.  

This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent. 

In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent. 

Mitigation efforts 

Throughout the pandemic, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible. 

In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women.  

And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs.  

Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes. 

Building forward 

To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency. 

It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO. 

Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men. 

The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection. 

Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step. 

Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately. 

Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO. 

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