The country, notorious for its dangerous levels of pollution, invested more than the US ($44.1bn), the UK ($22.2bn) and Japan ($36.2bn), put together, the United Nations Environment Programme’s annual report on global trends in renewable energy found.
In total, countries around the world invested $286bn in renewable energy capacity, early-stage technology and research and development in 2015 – more than six times higher than investments in 2004 and setting a new global record, adding $13bn to 2014’s investments.
As also revealed by Climatescope 2015 in November, developing countries outpaced their developed counterparts for the first time last year. The UNEP found emerging economies invested $156bn last year, a 19% increase on 2014, surpassing the developed world’s $130bn, which marked an 8% decrease.
Also for the first time, coal and gas-fired electricity generation attracted less than half the investments made in solar, wind and other renewables capacity, which stood at $130bn and $266bn respectively.
UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said last year’s record-setting investments are further proof that renewables are becoming ever more central to low-carbon lifestyles, and proving especially valuable in societies where reliable energy can offer “profound” improvements in quality of life, economic development and environmental sustainability.
UNEP also noted earlier this week that Latin America could save up to 10% in energy consumption by switching to cleaner technologies, saving $350bn in energy bills annually and reducing global CO₂ emissions by 1.25bn tonnes per year.
The report said this fast-rising demand in emerging economies, particularly China’s dash for wind and solar, are among the factors driving this shift in investment towards developing nations and away from advanced economies.
While countries like India, South Africa, Mexico and Chile all saw significant increases in investment, with the latter three seeing 329%, 105% and 151% spikes respectively, investment in Europe was down 21% at $48.8bn, the continent’s lowest figure for nine years despite record investments in offshore wind projects.
Subsidy cutbacks in Europe and sluggish economic growth in advanced economies could also be contributing to this trend, the report said.
The falling cost of renewables is also a factor in their rise across the globe. Worldwide, clean energy sources added 134 gigawatts of capacity last year, compared to 106GW in 2014 and 87GW in 2013.
Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which launched the report along with the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, noted that this was true despite the tumbling oil, gas and coal prices.
Increases were lead by wind and solar power, which dominated the renewables market in 2015 as in previous years.
The UNEP said that were it not for renewables, not including large hydro projects, annual global CO₂ emissions would have been significantly higher – 1.5 gigatonnes – in 2015.
Steiner said continued and increased investments like those seen last year is not only good for the people and planet, but will be a key element in achieving international targets on climate change and sustainable development.
“By adopting the Sustainable Development Goals last year, the world pledged to end poverty, promote sustainable development and to ensure healthier lives and access to affordable, sustainable and clean energy for all.
“Continued and increased investment in renewables will be a significant part of delivering on that promise.”