The Top 12 Climate Developments of 2023
The past year saw historic developments in climate, energy, and more to help move us toward a clean and secure future.
This past year saw some unfortunate climate milestones. It will be the hottest year ever recorded. Devastating floods swept Libya, Brazil, and China. Drought and record-high temperatures sparked catastrophic wildfires in Canada, Greece, Italy, and Hawaii. And global emissions of climate warming pollution will set a new high.
Yet, there were also some promising and inspiring developments as well.
From the implementation of the biggest US climate bill in history to new movement to slash methane emissions, we continue to make progress. Here we list the top 12 climate developments that give us hope for a clean and secure future — in no particular order.
1. Global investment in clean energy hits all-time high
Global investment in renewables and other clean energy technologies is on track to hit $1.8 trillion in 2023, $500 billion more than in 2022. RMI research shows that the growth in solar, wind, and battery capacity has brought the global electricity system to a milestone moment — where the transition away from fossil fuels has become hard to reverse, suggesting fossil fuel demand has peaked in the electricity sector and will be in freefall by the end of the decade.
2. The biggest climate bill in US history makes historic gains
A year after passage, the impact of the US Inflation Reduction Act has already exceeded early estimates. In 2023, the IRA led to $372 billion in new private clean energy investments, more than 211,000 new clean energy jobs, and almost 50,000 new manufacturing jobs. Interestingly, the impact of the IRA to date has been weighted toward traditionally Republican-leaning regions.
3. Electric mobility skyrockets
Global electric vehicle (EV) sales reached an all-time high at almost 18 percent of global vehicle sales in 2023. And in the United States, EVs are on track to easily surpass 1 million annual sales for the first time ever. Demand for electric bikes (e-bikes) took off too, with global sales of approximately 40 million outpacing those of passenger EVs. In India, more than half of all new three-wheeled vehicles sold and registered in 2023 were battery-operated. Trucks are also going electric, with RMI finding that the majority of medium- and heavy-duty trucks are electrifiable today. Globally, EVs already displace 1.5 million barrels of oil consumption per day, with that expected to rise to 1.8 million barrels in 2023. Even Barbie and Ken charged into the EV fervor.
4. A loss and damage fund, finally!
On the first day of the annual UN climate conference, COP28, leaders made a historic decision, agreeing to launch and capitalize a loss and damage fund. Details on the loss and damage fund, which will provide financial assistance to climate-vulnerable countries, have been debated for over a decade. At COP28, the UAE and Germany pledged $100 million each, and the United States promised $17.5 million.
5. A commercial airplane crosses the Atlantic without fossil fuels
In November, a Virgin Atlantic passenger jet flew from London to New York using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel, a historic first. The fuel — made from plant and waste products — produces 70 percent less carbon emissions and helps to eliminate aviation contrails, a substantial contributor to global warming. And RMI’s Thomas Koch Blank and Joey Cathcart were on the flight!
6. Steel and aluminum go green
This past year saw a push for sustainable metals from both the demand side and the supply side. To promote demand, leading companies joined together in the Sustainable Steel Buyers Platform, to request up to two million tons of near-zero-emissions steel. And RMI, along with four leading banks, launched the Sustainable Aluminum Finance Framework to enable banks to measure and disclose their lending portfolios’ aluminum-related emissions. RMI also released the Steel GHG Emissions Reporting Guidance, to help steel companies report emissions to promote a differentiated market for low-embodied emissions steel.
7. Green building codes sweep the United States
California passed a first-in-the-nation embodied carbon code for commercial buildings and schools (that RMI helped shape). New York became the first state to legislatively require all new buildings to be electric. In 25 US states, governors committed to installing 20 million heat pumps by 2030. Washington State passed building codes that will require new homes to provide energy-efficient heating and cooling. And Massachusetts passed a first-in-the-nation ruling that puts the state on a faster path to electrify heating.
8. Slashing methane emissions hits the spotlight
US Environmental Protection Agency announced major new rules to sharply reduce methane emissions — a super-potent contributor to global warming — from not only new oil and gas wells, but also from existing wells. A global initiative to cut methane emissions from landfills and other organic sources was also launched. At the UN climate conference in Dubai, 50 major oil corporations pledged to taper releases of methane from their operations to near zero by 2030. A new initiative supported with $40 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide data, transparency, and accountability frameworks to support them in doing that. And the World Bank launched a fund for methane detection and cleanup programs in developing countries that are major methane emitters.
9. Energy storage soars
Energy storage systems saw record growth globally in 2023 to 42 GW. In the United States, 4.5 GW came on line in the first three quarters of the year, and China installed 8.7 GW of battery energy storage in the first half of 2023 alone. Meanwhile, India is investing $452 million in battery energy storage systems, and the distribution utility BSES Rajdhani Power Limited, which serves over 2.7 million customers in the capital region of Delhi, awarded a contract for its first battery energy storage system project.
10. Gas stove research goes viral
New peer-reviewed research on the impacts of gas stoves and their link to childhood asthma (by RMI, the University of Sydney, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine) drove significant public awareness of gas cooking, how it lowers indoor air quality and harms public health, and the overlap of climate and health solutions. The research findings appeared everywhere from NPR to the Yale School of Public Health. And in a move to get gas out of buildings, 24 states introduced building decarbonization bills in 2023.
11. China hits a renewables milestone
China installed record volumes of new solar and wind capacity, as much as 230 GW in 2023 — up to three times more than the rest of the world brought on line. The country’s solar capacity increased by almost 50 percent from 2022, and in June, for the first time, China’s total installed non-fossil fuel energy power generation capacity surpassed that of fossil fuel energy.
12. Hydrogen gets greener
Green hydrogen — hydrogen made without fossil fuels — is growing at an exponential rate. It has grown by 2.5 times since May 2022. The European Union’s plan to import 10 million tons of renewable hydrogen by 2030 set off a rush of developers planning green hydrogen production facilities on nearly every continent. Meanwhile, the United States selected seven projects for its Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program, each to receive $1 billion, and is expected to release guidance on its new green hydrogen tax credit.