China-America race.Slow and unsteady does not win the race.Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

For the first time ever, developing countries lead yearly investment in clean energy — representing about $72 billion in spending in 2010, versus $70 billion in rich countries. So while U.S. lawmakers argue about efficiency standards in lightbulbs, the 800-pound dragon, China, is dominating. Meanwhile, Brazil, India, and various Middle Eastern countries are catching up.

The figures, which were put together by Bloomberg New Energy Finance for the U.N. Environment Program, show that total global investment grew by 30 percent in 2010 to $211 billion:

China, with U.S. $48.9 billion in financial new investment in renewables (up 28%), was the world leader in 2010. However, other parts of the emerging world also showed strong growth: South and Central America: up 39% to U.S. $13.1 billion; Middle East and Africa: up 104% to U.S. $5 billion; India: up 25% to U.S. $3.8 billion; and Asian developing countries excluding China and India: up 31% to U.S. $4 billion.

It may be somewhat inaccurate to say that the developing world is winning — it’s pretty much China. But others are emerging fast. As leading developing countries continue their rapid economic growth, their hunger for all types of energy is increasing, including renewables. As the importance of the G8 countries is eclipsed by the G20 countries, the leading industrialized renewable energy investors are now being cumulatively outpaced by emerging countries.

“The investment activity in the developing world is not only leading to innovations in renewable energy technologies. Furthermore, it will open up new markets as first mover investors are facilitating a range of new business models and support entrepreneurship in the developing world,” explains Udo Steffens [president of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management].

Another interesting trend is the scale of projects around the world. While we hear mostly about large-scale projects being developed, the largest percentage increase was in small-scale projects — up 91 percent from 2009 to $60 billion. That increase came mostly from the solar photovoltaic sector.