A dozen charts that map the uneven but hopeful path to a carbon-free economy

ImpactAlpha Editor

Amy Cortese

ImpactAlpha, Sept. 27 – Transitions are rarely a straight line. That is especially true of the massive global shift underway to a low-carbon economy. 

The smart minds at Generation Impact Management have been charting the energy transition’s progress and bumps in their annual Sustainability Trends Report.

“We believe this transition is still in its earliest stages, and that accelerating it is essential to human welfare and to the preservation of the natural world,” write Generation’s Al Gore and David Blood in the sixth edition of the data-packed report.

New climate investments by the U.S. will lead to a “historic acceleration of the sustainability revolution,” they say.

Among the takeaways: Developed nations are reducing emissions, but growing nations are quickly increasing theirs. Money is flowing to climate investments, but mostly to wealthy countries and mature sectors, not capital-starved developing nations. China dwarfs the U.S. in wind power capacity, but it is also adding prodigious amounts of coal power. And surging carbon markets have the potential to channel capital to nature-based solutions.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has dealt a short-term blow to climate action as energy security takes a front seat. Amid the historical tragedy, “a window of opportunity has opened,” write the authors. “If the politicians of today can match those of the mid-20th century for vision and courage, Europe has an opportunity to write a new history for the continent — and for Planet Earth.”

The annual trend-spotting exercise is always an eye-opening and mostly hopeful read. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the more thought provoking charts.  

1. Developed countries are greening their power supplies; developing nations are fueling growth with fossil fuels.

2. China has built more wind capacity than any other country, including the U.S.

3. Where emissions are not already falling, they are going up more slowly than in the past.

4. Emissions per unit of electricity produced, or emissions intensity, is also declining. 

5. Clean energy sources are growing, but so are fossil fuels. 

6. Economics will continue to drive deployments of solar and wind, the cheapest sources of energy. 

7. Global deforestation is threatening natural carbon sinks and biodiversity. 

8. Carbon markets are channeling capital into nature-based solutions, but stronger rules and standards are needed to ensure their integrity.

9. Climate finance is nearing $1 trillion, led by China.  

10. Trillions more are needed to to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

11.  Developing nations need a radical increase in private and public climate finance. Some 800 million people still lack access to electricity. 

12. Countries have increased fossil fuel subsidies in the face of rising energy prices and security concerns.