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China leads a global clean energy spending stall

Reproduced from BloombergNEF; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global investment in renewables and other low-carbon energy development fell 14% in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period last year, thanks largely to a steep decline in China, new data shows.

Why it matters: It marked the lowest level for any half-year since 2013, according to BloombergNEF, the consultancy that carefully tracks investment in low-carbon energy projects and companies.

Threat level: The slowdown comes as global carbon emissions are still rising — a far cry from the steep cuts scientists say are needed in coming decades to limit warming to 1.5°C or even 2°C above preindustrial levels.

By the numbers: Worldwide investment totaled $117.6 billion in the first half of 2019. Investment in China, the world's largest renewables market, was down 39% to $28.8 billion, while totals fell by much smaller amounts in the U.S. and Europe.

  • India, however, saw a 10% jump to $5.9 billion as it drives toward an "ambitious" target of 175 gigawatts of renewables capacity — including 100 GW of solar — by 2022.

Where it stands: BNEF notes that the drop stems in part from changes in Chinese policy that move away from subsidies called feed-in tariffs in favor of competitive project auctions.

  • “The slowdown in investment in China is real, but the figures for first-half 2019 probably overstate its severity," said Justin Wu, BNEF's head of Asia-Pacific, in a statement alongside the new data.
  • "We expect a nationwide solar auction happening now to lead to a rush of new PV project financings. We could also see several big deals in offshore wind in the second half," he said.

What they're saying: I asked cleantech expert and author Ramez Naam for some perspective. He said that while obviously the world needs to be moving faster and increasing investment, the tally highlights an important change in the landscape.

  • "Renewables are emerging out of their first economic phase, where they were subsidy dependent," Naam tells me via email.
  • "As renewables around the world drop into competitive unsubsidized prices, and even into prices where building new renewables is cheaper than operating existing fossil fuels, I expect investment to both grow and to be less volatile on a year-to-year basis."

Go deeper: Renewable energy mandates are costly climate policies