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Renewable Energy Capacity Soars, Just Not Fast Enough

Another year of record renewable energy growth is unlikely to keep pace with demand at current rates.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A thermosolar power plant in Chile
An aerial view of a thermosolar power plant is seen in Antofagasta, Chile, the first in Latin America, on Sept. 22. MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Renewable energy capacity breaks records in 2021, NATO and Russia trade warnings over Ukraine, and Xiomara Castro becomes Honduras’s president-elect.

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Renewable Energy Breaks Records for 2021

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Renewable energy capacity breaks records in 2021, NATO and Russia trade warnings over Ukraine, and Xiomara Castro becomes Honduras’s president-elect.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Renewable Energy Breaks Records for 2021

Renewable energy development is breaking records—but not nearly fast enough to reach net-zero levels by 2050, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The world is on track to add a record amount of renewable energy capacity this year, with the 290 gigawatts of new power amounting to the largest increase since last year, when renewable capacity grew by 280 gigawatts.

The rise in output has largely been driven by an increase in solar power, with new installations set to add another 160 gigawatts in 2021.

In the near term, growth in renewables is expected to be steep, with renewable energy expected to account for 4,800 gigawatts—the same amount that fossil fuels and nuclear power produces today—by 2026.

While analysis shows some of the world’s major polluters, especially China, are on track to reach renewable targets earlier than expected, the news is not a clear sign that the world is on track to entirely replace fossil fuels and halt their harmful emissions.

The IEA, which earlier this year called for a ban on new fossil fuel development, has cautioned that the rate of projected renewable power capacity additions between now and 2026 would need to double to come within reach of net-zero emissions by 2050.

That’s driven in part by an expected surge in energy demand in the next 30 years, as Asian economies mature and the population grows. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projecting a 50 percent increase in world energy use by 2050, with roughly a quarter of that energy provided by renewables on current policy trajectories.

With renewable energy capacity on track to exceed 2030 targets early, expect to see further pressure on governments to increase their carbon-reduction pledges in time for next year’s COP27 in Egypt.

What We’re Following Today

NATO-Russia tensions. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia on Tuesday that it would pay a “high price” and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of “serious consequences” if Russia used force against Ukraine. NATO foreign ministers finish up a two-day summit in Latvia today, with tensions in Eastern Europe high on the agenda.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said any attempts by NATO to place advanced missile systems in Ukraine would not be taken lightly. “If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be seven to 10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed,” Putin said. “Just imagine: What are we to do in such a scenario? We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way. And we can do that now.”

Castro wins in Honduras. Xiomara Castro’s path to Honduras’s presidency was cleared on Tuesday after her opponent conceded defeat in Sunday’s election. With roughly half of the votes counted, Castro leads her opponent, Tegucigalpa Mayor Nasry Asfura, by nearly 20 percentage points, winning 53 percent of the vote tallied so far. Castro’s victory will make her the first leftist politician in control of the country since 2009, when her husband, former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, was deposed in a coup.

Keep an Eye On

Zemmour steps in. Far-right pundit Éric Zemmour officially announced his candidacy for next year’s French presidential election on Tuesday in a video assailing minority groups. Zemmour’s run comes amid falling public approval, as his poll numbers slip behind conservative leader Marine Le Pen following a brief surge. Zemmour must now garner the support of 500 mayors or local officials to make his candidacy valid under French electoral rules.

Omicron’s spread. Brazil became the first Latin American country to report cases of the omicron variant on Tuesday after two travelers tested positive after returning from South Africa. The discovery means the omicron variant has now been found on four continents. It’s possible the omicron variant has spread further in Europe than previously known, after Dutch health officials announced on Tuesday they had detected it in test samples taken from Nov. 19-23, days before two flights from South Africa arrived in Amsterdam carrying at least 14 passengers who tested positive for the variant.

Odds and Ends

Tel Aviv, Israel, has been ranked the world’s most expensive city to live in, jumping five places in the 2020 rankings to secure the top spot in this year’s Worldwide Cost of Living index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The Israeli city led the list, which compares prices in U.S. dollars across 173 cities, in part due to the strength of the shekel against the dollar as well as increases in food and transportation costs. Paris, last year’s joint leader along with Zurich and Hong Kong, came second. Syria’s capital, Damascus, was the cheapest on the list.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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