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Renewable energy grew at record pace in 2023, thanks to a push from China


John Kerry, President Biden's climate envoy, is expected to step down and help him in his 2024 campaign. But the need for climate solutions and renewable energy remains huge, with new sources of wind and solar power growing rapidly. NPR's climate correspondent Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: This is the 22nd year in a row that countries have set a record for new renewable energy projects, according to the International Energy Agency, but this time was noteworthy. Countries added 50% more renewable energy last year than the year before. Here's IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

FATIH BIROL: A huge historical jump. It's a very good news, and the big chunk of this growth comes from solar.

BRADY: The IEA is a research and policy organization sponsored by countries that consume lots of energy, including the U.S. and most of Europe. Birol says most of the growth in solar energy came from one place.

BIROL: China is the single most important driver of this spectacular growth 2023 when it comes to renewable energy.

BRADY: Birol says China installed enough solar panels last year to power more than 50 million homes. The agency says renewable energy records also were broken in Europe, the U.S. and Brazil. But for countries to meet their climate goals, there must be even more record-breaking years to come. At the recent COP28 climate conference in Dubai, countries agreed to triple renewable energy by the end of this decade, based on 2022 levels. The IEA says even at the current record-breaking pace, the world would fall short of that goal, reaching only about 2 1/2 times. Among proposed solutions, the agency suggests more aid for developing countries to build renewable projects, and it credits the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act for spurring renewable growth in the U.S. But building more wind and solar isn't enough to fully address climate change, says Joel Jaeger with the World Resources Institute.

JOEL JAEGER: We can't just scale up renewable energy. We also need to be scaling down fossil fuels.

BRADY: The Paris climate agreement aims to zero out greenhouse gases by 2050. That's designed to avoid the worst consequences of a warming climate. The world is not on track to do that now, but the IEA did point to one encouraging sign. Next year, renewable energy is expected to generate more electricity than coal for the first time.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.