Solar and wind power generated a TENTH of the world’s electricity in the first half of 2020 as coal sees biggest fall since 1990

  • Renewable energy made up 10 per cent of global usage for the first half of 2020
  • This came as coal power generation dropped by 8.3 per cent in the same period 
  • Authors say coal needs to fall by 13 per cent annually to meet climate targets 

Renewable power from wind turbines and solar panels produced 10 per cent of the world’s electricity in the first half of this year, according to a new energy report.

The independent climate think tank Ember compiled the report and found that the increase in renewables came as coal-powered generation declined to the lowest half-year level since at least 1990.

Report authors say coal generation dropped by 8.3 per cent but still accounted for 33 per cent of global production – too high to meet global climate change targets.

In order to keep global temperatures from increasing by more than 2.7F authors say coal power generation needs to fall by 13 per cent every year of this decade.

Overall electricity demand fell by three per cent during the six months due to lockdown measures to slow the spread of coronavirus, the report said. 

The independent climate think tank Ember compiled the report and found that the increase in renewables came as coal-powered generation declined 

Global electricity production is starting to shift towards renewable energy but ‘not fast enough’ to meet climate change targets

Ember’s report into power generation levels up to June 2020 examined data from 48 countries which make up 83 per cent of global electricity production.

Wind and solar power generation rose by 14 per cent during the first half of 2020 compared with 2019, while output from coal fell by 8.3 per cent, the report found. 

Europe and the UK saw the largest contributions from wind and solar, at 21 per cent and 33 per cent respectively during the first half of the year.

 China produced 10 per cent of its power from wind and solar energy and the United States produced 12 per cent, the report said. 

Report authors say coal generation dropped by 8.3 per cent but still accounted for 33 per cent of global production – too high to meet global climate change targets

Coal power generation in the US and Europe fell by 31 per cent and 32 per cent respectively while coal power in China was down just 2 per cent.

The US coal collapse is undermined by a switch to gas, whereas the EU is leapfrogging from coal to wind and solar, Ember analysists explained. 

‘Coal generation collapsed by 24% in the EU and 16% in the US in 2019, and is now half the level of 2007 in both the EU and US,’ report authors wrote.

Since 2007, US CO2 power sector emissions – including coal and gas – fell by 19-32 per cent, whereas they fell by 43 per cent in the EU. 

The global assessment by climate think tank Ember also showed that coal power had its biggest overall half-year fall in generation since at least 1990.

They say this happened in the face of growing renewable energy usage as well asa drop in demand caused by Covid-19. 

Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst at Ember said countries are on the same path – to build wind turbines and solar panels and replace energy from gas and coal. 

“But to keep a chance of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees, coal generation needs to fall by 13% every year this decade,’ he explained.

The overral share of electricity production by fuel shows that coal and gas still account for the bulk of what is being produced worldwide 

“The fact that, during a global pandemic, coal generation has still only fallen by 8 per cent shows just how far off track we still are.

“We have the solution, it’s working, it’s just not happening fast enough.” 

Many countries, including China, the US, India, Japan, Brazil and Turkey now get 10 per cent or more of their electricity from wind and solar.   

Scientists have said coal needs to fall to just 6 per cent of total electricity generation by 2030, with most of the fossil fuel replaced by wind and solar, the report warned. 

A study published last week in Nature Climate Change found that a fall in emissions as a result of Covid-19 won’t make any long-term difference to temperatures.

The authors of that study said it was essential government focused on ‘clean growth’ measures including a rapid switch away from fossil fuels.  

In order to keep global temperatures from increasing by more than 2.7F authors say coal power generation needs to fall by 13 per cent every year of this decade

In response to that report, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said tackling climate change was at the heart of economic recovery. 

A BEIS Spokesperson said: ‘The actions we are taking to meet our legally-binding target for net zero emissions by 2050 will help to deliver a stronger, cleaner economy after this pandemic.

‘These include the new £2billion Green Homes Grant, a £40 million Clean Growth Fund and a £800m investment in Carbon Capture and Storage technology’

The full Global Electricity Review 2020 report is available from Ember. 

Revealed: MailOnline dissects the impact greenhouse gases have on the planet – and what is being done to stop air pollution


Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. After the gas is released into the atmosphere it stays there, making it difficult for heat to escape – and warming up the planet in the process. 

It is primarily released from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as cement production. 

The average monthly concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, as of April 2019, is 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was just 280 ppm. 

CO2 concentration has fluctuated over the last 800,000 years between 180 to 280ppm, but has been vastly accelerated by pollution caused by humans. 

Nitrogen dioxide 

The gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from burning fossil fuels, car exhaust emissions and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers used in agriculture.

Although there is far less NO2 in the atmosphere than CO2, it is between 200 and 300 times more effective at trapping heat.

Sulfur dioxide 

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also primarily comes from fossil fuel burning, but can also be released from car exhausts.

SO2 can react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to cause acid rain. 

Carbon monoxide 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an indirect greenhouse gas as it reacts with hydroxyl radicals, removing them. Hydroxyl radicals reduce the lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. 


What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air. 

Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye. 

Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.

Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).

Air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, cars, cement making and agriculture 

Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.

Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.

Why are particulates dangerous?

Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads. 

Health impact

What sort of health problems can pollution cause?

According to the World Health Organization, a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be linked to air pollution. 

Some of the effects of air pollution on the body are not understood, but pollution may increase inflammation which narrows the arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes. 

As well as this, almost one in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by air pollution. 

Particulates find their way into the lungs and get lodged there, causing inflammation and damage. As well as this, some chemicals in particulates that make their way into the body can cause cancer. 

Deaths from pollution 

Around seven million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Pollution can cause a number of issues including asthma attacks, strokes, various cancers and cardiovascular problems. 


Asthma triggers

Air pollution can cause problems for asthma sufferers for a number of reasons. Pollutants in traffic fumes can irritate the airways, and particulates can get into your lungs and throat and make these areas inflamed. 

Problems in pregnancy 

Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.

Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.

For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds. 

Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’. 

What is being done to tackle air pollution? 

Paris agreement on climate change

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. 

It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.

Carbon neutral by 2050 

The UK government has announced plans to make the country carbon neutral by 2050. 

They plan to do this by planting more trees and by installing ‘carbon capture’ technology at the source of the pollution.

Some critics are worried that this first option will be used by the government to export its carbon offsetting to other countries.

International carbon credits let nations continue emitting carbon while paying for trees to be planted elsewhere, balancing out their emissions.

No new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040

In 2017, the UK government announced the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040. 

From around 2020, town halls will be allowed to levy extra charges on diesel drivers using the UK’s 81 most polluted routes if air quality fails to improve.

However,  MPs on the climate change committee have urged the government to bring the ban forward to 2030, as by then they will have an equivalent range and price.

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. Pictured: air pollution over Paris in 2019.

Norway’s electric car subsidies

The speedy electrification of Norway’s automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies. Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.

A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient. 

Criticisms of inaction on climate change

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said there is a ‘shocking’ lack of Government preparation for the risks to the country from climate change. 

The committee assessed 33 areas where the risks of climate change had to be addressed – from flood resilience of properties to impacts on farmland and supply chains – and found no real progress in any of them.

The UK is not prepared for 2°C of warming, the level at which countries have pledged to curb temperature rises, let alone a 4°C rise, which is possible if greenhouse gases are not cut globally, the committee said.

It added that cities need more green spaces to stop the urban ‘heat island’ effect, and to prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall. 

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