Bright Times: Ranking the G20 Nations By Renewable Energy

A report grades the G20 nations on renewable energy. It’s depressing.

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In the midst of the G-20 Summit closes in Mexico and the most likely futile Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, we can stop and consider how inadequately either of these attempts at global cooperation are actually helping to make global energy use more sustainable. The National Resources Defense Council has released a scorecard ranking the G20 nations on their use of renewable energy since the last Earth Summit in 2002, where they vaguely pledged to “substantially increase” the use of renewable energy.

The report ranked the G20 nations on what percentage of their electricity comes from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, and wave power. The EU countries are really leading the pack: Germany takes first place, getting nearly 11% of its energy from renewable sources. It’s followed by the EU as a whole with almost 7%, then Italy and Indonesia.

The US comes in at seventh place, where its measly 2.7% renewable energy puts it just a hair ahead of Mexico. Russia comes in last, with 0.0% of its energy coming from renewable sources.

(MORE: The Rio+20 Summit: Don’t Expect Much)

The NRDC also ranked the nations on how much their renewable energy production has grown since 2002. South Korea has had the most growth: it multiplied its then-puny production 200 times, putting it at a still-puny 0.9%. China comes in a distant second, having multiplied its renewable energy more than 80 times.

The US is eleventh on that list, having quadrupled its production. Argentina, where production has decreased by 12%, is last.

[Note: check my math. South Korea’s percent change was almost 20,000% — I believe that means that the total is two hundred times what it was previously.

South Korea: 100% + 20,000%  = 20,100%

China: 100% + 7,600% = 8,600%

US: 100% + 340% = 440%]

Not surprisingly, the EU spends the most on its total clean energy investments, spending nearly $300 billion since 2004. The US comes in at a not-so-close second, at $215 billion, with China close on its heels at just under $200 billion. Saudi Arabia, which has spent a pathetic $20 million since 2004, comes in last place. In Saudi Arabia, oil is still cheap.

(MORE: The Earth Summit Can’t Save the Earth)

The report’s authors remind the 20 nations of the commitment they 20 made in 2002 to “substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources.” They’ve made a difference: in the G20 countries as a whole, new clean energy investments have increased by almost 600 percent, far outpacing economic growth in those countries.

But it’s not enough, the report’s authors warn. Without a striking turnaround, the G20 nations are on no track to meet their goal. The G20 nations as a whole currently use 2.6% renewable energy. Based on current trends, they will be using under 4 percent by 2015, and less than 6 percent by 2020.

The NRDC seems to be as skeptical of Rio+20’s power to produce a meaningful global agreement as most critics have been. The report urges nations to take on “individual commitments” [their emphasis] in the form of specific new laws, incentives, and programs.

(MORE: G-20 Will Produce Plan for Global Growth)