Renewable energy is surging — literally: 3 stories you may have missed

© Laszlo Novak/Wild Wonders of Europe

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Renewable energy growth rate up 45 percent worldwide in 2020; IEA sees 'new normal' 

Solar and wind power gain traction as global coal consumption plummets.

The story: Renewable energy is on the rise, with countries adding 278 gigawatts of clean energy to their power grids — a 45 percent increase compared with 2019, according to a new report. The United States and Vietnam saw significant growth in renewable energy, reported Bill Chappell for NPR. However, the report found that nearly half the growth in renewable energy can be attributed to China, which made massive investments in solar and wind energy over the past year. 

The big picture: At a recent climate summit led by the Biden Administration, the United States pledged to roughly halve its greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2030, and several other countries such as Japan and the United Kingdom also announced new climate targets. Although global coal consumption fell by 4 percent in 2020, experts agree that countries must continue to divest from fossil fuels such as coal and oil and expand renewable energy to reach their climate goals.

“A massive expansion of clean electricity is crucial to enable the world to reach its net zero goals,” Faith Birol, the director of the International Energy Agency, which authored the report, said in a statement. “Governments must build on this momentum by scaling up investment in solar, wind and other renewables as well as the grid infrastructure they need.”

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Violence and natural disasters pushed millions from their homes last year.

The story: A new study found that storms, floods, wildfires and conflict drove 40.5 million internal displacements last year, reported Saeed Kamali Dehghan for The Guardian. From Bangladesh to Brazil, extreme weather events such as cyclones and droughts — which many scientists say are exacerbated by climate change — are increasingly forcing people to flee their homes and relocate within their countries. Meanwhile, conflict, often exacerbated by competition for dwindling resources, also worsened in many countries last year, displacing more than 2 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, according to the study. 

The big picture: The study’s findings point to a growing trend; reports estimate that climate change could displace hundreds of millions of people worldwide over the next century. 

An influx of “climate refugees” seeking shelter in different cities or countries could exacerbate conflicts over resources and put increased pressure on urban areas around the world. Not only is it crucial for the world to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change, experts agree that  countries must also adapt to climate change by creating policies, infrastructure and public awareness to help mitigate its impacts. 

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In social media and internet searches, nature is “trending.” 

The story: A new report finds a growing number of people are ready to take action against global biodiversity loss — in what the authors call an “eco-wakening.” After analyzing surveys, social media, news outlets and search terms across the internet, the report’s authors found that “concern about nature loss has moved beyond activist circles and into the mainstream.” Twitter posts about biodiversity and nature have increased by 65 percent in the past five years and Google searches on these topics grew 16 percent in that same timeframe, reported Gabrielle Lipton for Landscape News. 

The big picture: More than 1 million species are at risk of extinction — and human activities such as deforestation and farming are largely to blame, according to a 2019 UN report. Experts agree that the growing public concern for nature could influence governments to enact policies that protect biodiversity and put pressure on companies to prioritize sustainability in their products.

“No matter where you live, it has become impossible to ignore humanity’s unsustainable relationship with nature,” Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan wrote in a tweet about the report. “By taking immediate and inclusive action, we can create a healthier relationship with nature and secure the benefits that we all depend on."

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Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: A wind power station near Westerhever, Germany (© Laszlo Novak/Wild Wonders of Europe)