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Renewables Overtook Fossil Fuels for Electricity in Europe in 2020 in Historic First

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goal 13 for climate action means embracing renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels. Although progress has been slow, we can take heart that the tide is turning — especially in Europe, where green energy just overtook fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases, for the first ever time. Join our movement now to take action to protect the environment.

The world really needs a win right now. 

Thankfully, renewable energy, as ever, offers literally limitless depths of hope for the future. And in Europe, it’s out with the old and in with the (re)new(able) — sincere apologies there — as green energy sources have officially outgrown fossil fuels on the continent.

In 2020, fossil fuels accounted for 37% of electricity consumption across the European Union (EU). But renewables just edged past it for the first time ever, coming in at 38%.

Good news, right? The EU’s power consumption has been tracked since 2015 by clean energy think tanks Ember (from the UK) and Agora Energiewende (from Germany), with the latest data revealed in their annual report.

It’s something we should be seeing more and more too: if the EU is going to achieve its climate goals, it will need to keep increasing the influence of renewables in the energy market. 

The bloc needs to reduce its emissions recorded in 1990 by 55% before 2030 if it’s going to become climate neutral by 2050 — a commitment made at the Climate Ambition Summit, a digital conference hosted by the UK government in December 2020. It was described as "a fundamental milestone on the way to carbon neutrality" by French President Emmanuel Macron.

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Wind and solar energy have played a big part. In fact, both have almost doubled since 2015, according to CNN, while coal has halved since then, declining by 20% last year alone.

"Rapid growth in wind and solar has forced coal into decline, but this is just the beginning," said Dave Jones, Ember’s senior electricity analyst. "Europe is relying on wind and solar to ensure not only coal is phased out by 2030, but also to phase out gas generation, replace closing nuclear power plants, and to meet rising electricity demand from electric cars, heat pumps, and electrolysers.​"

For the first time in months, there’s a graph with things pointing upwards that implies the opposite of impending doom!

It’s a particularly impressive landmark moment given the size of the EU bloc: 27 countries with varying degrees of dependency on greenhouse gases. The UK — now no longer part of the EU, of course — is potentially on a similar trajectory too, after a deal was signed in 2019 for a third of all electricity to come from offshore wind energy by 2030.

But this must be the beginning, not the end. If the EU is going to hit its targets, it needs to double the electricity made from renewable energy in 2020, according to the report.

The next year will be crucial. In November, the UK will host the biggest climate conference since the Paris Agreement, called COP26. Hundreds of world leaders and potentially tens of thousands of delegates from across the globe, depending on pandemic restrictions, will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, to make commitments that could shape the future of climate policy.

It could be a vital turning point in ensuring that renewable energy becomes business as usual — and in scaling up the fight against the climate crisis to avoid catastrophic temperature rises in the next decade.