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The climate fight will be won or lost in India, in 8 charts

Indian villagers, illegally scavenging coal from a nearby mine.
Indian villagers, illegally scavenging coal from a nearby mine.
(Photo by Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images)

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) is out with its annual New Energy Outlook for 2016, forecasting global energy trends through 2040, focusing this year on electricity.

There’s lots to dig through, but the big story is familiar: Progress is occurring more rapidly than almost anyone forecast — global fossil fuel electricity use is expected to peak in 2025 and decline thereafter — but not rapidly enough to forestall 2 degrees of global warming. We’re going fast, but not fast enough.

That said, there are lots of interesting nuances and substories in the report. One of them reveals that India, not China, is becoming the key to global decarbonization.

Most of the big emitters have gotten a handle on their electricity systems, meaning that they are on track to phase out coal and (somewhat later) natural gas. They’re not doing it fast enough, but at least they are on the right trajectory. That’s even true for China, where just a few years ago analysts were saying that coal would dominate forever. Now there’s a post-2020 moratorium on new coal plants.

India, however, is a different story. Its economy is growing quickly, and with it electricity demand. That means even with the audacious renewable energy goals Modi has laid out, coal consumption is going to triple in India by 2040, with 258 GW of new coal capacity coming online.

As a result of this new coal, BNEF says, "power sector emissions will still be 5 percent higher in 2040, as progress in the EU, US and China is offset by steep emissions growth in India and SE Asia."

But enough words. Let’s tell the story in charts.

1) Globally, through 2040, $11.4 trillion will be invested in new power generation, mostly in renewables

electricity investment (BNEF)

2) More than half of that new generating capacity will be built in the Asia-Pacific region

capacity additions by region (BNEF)

3) Some $2.8 trillion will be invested in power generation in China, with dramatic results

china new capacity (BNEF)

In China, coal capacity will peak in 2020 and coal generation will peak in 2025. Through 2040, 73 percent of new generation capacity will be renewables. It's a remarkable turnaround from the story about China being told a decade ago.

4) Europe is also on track to drive coal and gas out of the power sector

eu capacity (BNEF)

Renewables promise to be 70 percent of all electricity generation in Europe by 2040.

5) In the US, coal is going to drop but gas is going to hang on

us capacity through 2040 (BNEF)

Renewables will comprise up to 50 percent of total generating capacity in the US by 2040. Most of that "other" is nuclear, so natural gas — which is expected to stay stubbornly cheap and plentiful in the US — will remain America’s unsolved fossil problem.

6) So coal is declining everywhere ... except India

india capacity (BNEF)

Burgeoning energy demand and persistent low coal prices mean that coal will continue to dominate the power mix in India (and elsewhere in SE Asia), rising through 2040, even though a growing share of new capacity (29 percent) will come from solar.

7) Cumulatively, clean power will explode, but dirty power won’t decline much

electricity generation through 2040 (BNEF)

Despite the growth in wind and solar, fossil fuels’ total global contribution to electricity remains roughly steady through 2040, mainly because of all the new coal capacity expected to come online. BNEF expects 963 GW of new coal through 2040 — and remember, 248 GW of that, just over a quarter of the total, is destined for India.

8) This means, unless something changes, global power-sector GHG emissions will hold steady

emissions through 2040 (BNEF)

BNEF estimates that another $5.3 trillion in zero-carbon energy investment (on top of the $7.8 trillion) would be needed between now and 2040 to put power-sector emissions on a 2 degree trajectory.

Most of that investment would need to go to India (and Vietnam, and other SE Asian nations), to accelerate the shift from coal to renewables.

Where’s that extra investment going to come from? What's going to drive it? How will it be structured? If there's to be any hope of averting the worst of climate change, these questions urgently need answers.