The molecular features that define clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) initiation and progression are being increasingly defined. The TRACERx Renal studies and others that have described the interaction between tumour genomics and remodelling of the tumour microenvironment provide important new insights into the molecular drivers underlying ccRCC ontogeny and progression. Our understanding of common genomic and chromosomal copy number abnormalities in ccRCC, including chromosome 3p loss, provides a mechanistic framework with which to organize these abnormalities into those that drive tumour initiation events, those that drive tumour progression and those that confer lethality. Truncal mutations in ccRCC, including those in VHL, SET2, PBRM1 and BAP1, may engender genomic instability and promote defects in DNA repair pathways. The molecular features that arise from these defects enable categorization of ccRCC into clinically and therapeutically relevant subtypes. Consideration of the interaction of these subtypes with the tumour microenvironment reveals that specific mutations seem to modulate immune cell populations in ccRCC tumours. These findings present opportunities for disease prevention, early detection, prognostication and treatment.