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UN reports surging investments in renewable energy

- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2011

STOCKHOLM (AP) - Global investments in renewable energy jumped 32 percent to $211 billion last year, boosted by wind farm development in China and rooftop solar panels in Europe, U.N. officials said Thursday.

A report by the U.N. Environment Program shows that solar, wind, biomass and other forms of green energy are gaining momentum, despite the lack of progress in international climate talks aimed at slowing emissions of heat-trapping gases from fossil fuels.

The report also found that the developing world, led by China, for the first time attracted a majority of the investments in large-scale renewable energy projects. China spent $48.9 billion on such projects in 2010, mostly wind power _ an increase of 28 percent from 2009. The United States was second with investments of $23.8 billion.

Those two countries also account for nearly half of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

While renewable energy only accounted for just over 5 percent of global power generation in 2010, UNEP chief Achim Steiner said the increased spending on green energy shows investors are preparing for a transition to a low-carbon future.

"Fossil fuels live under the principle that over time they will become more expensive," Steiner told The Associated Press. "With renewables, the opposite holds true."

The price of solar panels per megawatt has fallen 60 percent in the past three years, while wind power prices have dropped 18 percent per megawatt in the past two years, the report said.

Wind power remained the No. 1 source of renewable energy, attracting investments of nearly $95 billion in 2010. However, solar was not far behind, at $86 billion if you add small-scale projects such as rooftop solar panels. Those increased sharply in Germany and other European countries due to government subsidies.

Biomass and waste-to-energy came in third with $11 billion in investments, according to the report, which excluded large-scale hydropower projects because of their "questionable social and environmental impact."

Steiner praised the "resilience" of investments in green technologies but said their growth can only be sustained over time if climate negotiators reach a deal on curbing greenhouse emissions.

Those talks have shown little progress in recent years as rich and poor nations bicker over emissions cuts and how to monitor them. A much-hyped climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to deliver any breakthroughs and talks since have only yielded modest gains.

Last year UNEP said voluntary pledges made by countries to reduce emissions only accounted for about 60 percent of what's needed to stop global warming from exceeding 2 degrees C (3.6 F). That's a reference point in climate talks to avoid the dangerous climate change, including the flooding of island nations and coastal areas.

The U.N. report showed that despite its strong growth, renewable energy spending represented just over one-sixth of the $1.2 trillion invested in energy in 2010.

"Were still talking about an energy system globally that is on the wrong trajectory," Steiner told the AP.

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