Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced plans to scrap the Clean Power Plan, a rule put in place by the Obama administration in 2015 in order to drastically lower carbon emissions by 2030. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a proposal portraying the plan as more costly and less beneficial than originally described, in an effort to justify the move. This exasperating reversal represents just one more step in Trump’s ongoing mission to undo the hard-won achievements of his predecessor, but it also amplifies a troubling international trend: while the U.S. is falling behind on clean energy, China is surging ahead.

In the October issue of Scientific American, the annual State of the World’s Science report features an article on the rise of China as a leader not only in terms of clean energy, but also other scientific frontiers such as genomics and quantum mechanics. The story includes a graph I created using data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) to highlight China’s recent growth in renewable electricity generation compared to that of other global leaders, including the U.S.


Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: International Energy Agency

Following the publication of this graphic, I unexpectedly acquired another dataset from the IEA, one which encompasses a more complete set of regions and incorporates not only recent trends, but also projections and targets for the next several years. First, I decided to show this new data in an area chart as in the original graphic. This visual form has the benefit of showing the cumulative effect of data from all regions. However, I also wished to see a clearer comparison between China and the rest of the world, so in a second iteration, I visualized the same dataset as a line graph.

Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: International Energy Agency

In both graphs, the data speak for themselves. While global 2025 targets require more action across the board, recent U.S. decisions such as scaling back the Clean Power Plan, pulling out of the Paris Agreement, and promoting the oxymoronic figment known as “clean coal,” point us squarely in the wrong direction. And as we fall behind, the world will look instead to China as a model for a more sustainable future.