The December 2015 UNFCCC conference in Paris placed climate change squarely in the public spotlight for the final quarter of the year. In the months leading up to the conference, debates raged about key climate change issues, how each country should approach the talks and what potential results could be considered a success and by whom.
Notably, much of the forecast was gloomy. The much hyped yet ultimately ineffectual talks in Copenhagen in 2009 were still fresh in the minds of all and the challenges of achieving global collaboration to limit global warming to two degrees seemed insurmountable. Perhaps most importantly, fossil fuel prices had been consistently low, leading many to speculate stymied renewable energy growth.
Cue a new report from the UN Environment Program and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Regardless of how one assesses the ultimate outcome of the Paris conference, the report certainly dispels the gloom about the future of renewable energy. Despite weak policy support in developed nations and consistently low prices for fossil fuels, renewable energy had a record year in 2015.
Investment in renewables (excluding large hydro) exceeded the previous record by 5%; meanwhile generating capacity added in wind and solar exceeded the previous record by 25% and to top it all off, the costs of renewable generation fell across the board. Notably, developing countries eclipsed developed countries for the first time in renewables investment, with China, India and Brazil leading the way, contributing over $150 billion.
What makes those numbers so impressive is not their ease, but in fact the adversity overcome to result in another record breaking year. Despite dull forecasts, low-priced competitors and a weak policy environment, renewables were still able to hold their own.
The road ahead is certainly still challenging, but Paris provided some key momentum alone in getting 195 countries to agree to some form of climate deal. And based on 2015, it looks like renewables are ready to rise to the occasion.