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10 Reasons to Be Optimistic for a Low-Carbon Future

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Sure, many of my friends in the climate change movement can't wait to forget 2016, the year when an incoming Trump presidency brought new meaning to climate uncertainty. But there is a movement taking hold that is far bigger than the U.S.—I've seen it in the last year in Africa, in Europe and the U.S.

Here are 10 shining lights for the irresistibility and inevitability of the low-carbon future. It's here—and there is no turning back.

1. Solar Symphony

Solar costs keep plummeting, the latest record low being a 120-megawatt solar project in Chile whose power will be sold for $29.10 a megawatt-hour, less than half the coal plant bid. Solar photovoltaic costs are dropping the fastest compared to other renewables, which helps explain the record 4,300 megawatts of new solar PV capacity installed in the U.S. in third quarter '16. (That's 60 percent of new generating electric capacity installed in the US last quarter). We also saw the opening of the world's first one-kilometer road paved with solar panels, dubbed the "Wattway," this month in France.

2. A Big Dash of Disclosure

Companies bottom line is money and they need to provide better information about the financial risks they face from changing climate trends and government responses. This month, a task force convened by the G20 Financial Stability Board issued final recommendations on the types of disclosure companies should be providing to investors about climate risks and opportunities. Among the highlights: all companies, especially oil & gas firms, should say how their business strategies align with the global goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, the benchmark goal of the Paris climate agreement.

3. Prevailing Winds

Wind power is often cheaper than solar, the result of more efficient and less costly turbines. In some states, including Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Texas, new wind turbines can generate electricity at a lower cost, without subsidies, than any other technology, according to a new University of Texas report. Texas is the king of wind, with 18,000 megawatts of capacity that on some windy days supply nearly half of the state's power.

4. Pay It Forward

Pay-as-you-go solar companies, made possible by mobile phones, are the rage in Africa. M-Kopa Solar has leveraged the mobile money phenomena to sell more than 425,000 household solar systems in East Africa. With a $30 deposit and daily 50-cent payments, all by cell phone, customers get a solar panel, a couple of lights, a cell phone charger and a solar powered radio. After the first year of payments, customers own the system outright. Similar off-grid solar companies are now sprouting up across Africa and they've attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in financing.

5. Emerging No More

Clean energy expenditures in emerging nations in South America, Africa, the Middle East and Africa eclipsed those in wealthier OECD countries for the first time. Some of the biggest jumps, especially for big utility-scale solar projects, were in countries like Chile, Mexico and South Africa. We also saw notable improvement in the investment environment for clean energy in many developing countries, with the top five scorers in a new Climatescope report being China, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and South Africa.

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