2020 was a year of disruption. The pandemic had a tragic impact on our communities but our health benefited from the extreme drop in fossil fuel use. It was also a year of new norms in the renewable energy sector. Ambition increased at an accelerated pace with a dramatic expansion of net zero emission targets. Increasing pressure from citizens and civil society led courts to force countries to strengthen their own climate plans, while the private sector purchased record amounts of renewable energy.

However, the past teaches us that ambition is not enough. It must be translated into action. While this year’s Renewables 2021 Global Status Report (GSR) shows continuing progress in the power sector, the share of renewables in heating and transport has barely changed from past levels. Despite all the rhetoric, we are nowhere near the necessary paradigm shift towards a clean, healthier and more equitable energy future.

Clearly, we need a structural shift. It’s not just about deploying and installing renewables. It’s also about conserving energy, integrating energy efficiency AND leaving fossil fuels in the ground. It’s time to stop talking only about gigawatts of installed capacity. We must emphasise how renewables can support development, economic development and a cleaner, healthier environment. If we are to achieve the energy transition, we need to integrate renewables across all economic sectors.

This year’s report shows that governments need to act more aggressively and press forward with renewables in all sectors. The window of opportunity is closing and efforts must be ramped up significantly. This will not be easy. The share of fossil fuels in overall final energy demand is as high as it was a decade ago. While renewables grew almost 5% per year from 2009 to 2019, fossil fuel shares remained at around 80% over the same period. And with fossil fuel subsidies in 2019 totalling USD 550 billion – almost double the total investment in renewables – the last 10 years of climate policy promises have shown themselves to be mostly empty words.

One way to accelerate development is to define the uptake of renewable energy as a key performance indicator (KPI). To borrow a business adage, “What gets measured gets done.” By measuring our performance, we can close the gap between ambition and target. And how better to measure our progress towards a clean energy transition? We must use the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption as a KPI and link it to every economic activity, every budget, every single purchase. This may sound overly ambitious, but we need urgent action. We cannot afford to make any more commitments that do not produce action. This needs to happen now.

I hope that the pages of this report contain the data and information you need to continue your work in making renewable energy the new norm. I would like to thank all those who have contributed to this year’s edition. Particular thanks go to the Research Direction Team of Hannah E. Murdock, Duncan Gibb and Thomas André; Special Advisors Janet L. Sawin, Adam Brown and Lea Ranalder; the many authors; our editors, Lisa Mastny and Leah Brumer; our designers, Caren Weeks, Nicole Winter and Sebastian Ross; and all those who provided data and participated in the peer review process. Once again, this report illustrates the power of a collective process.

Rana Adib
Executive Director, REN21

June 2021