Leading world figures call for a green transition as route out of Covid crisis

Tue 28 April 2020 View all news

Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, is among a number of leading world voices to say that the fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic presents an historic opportunity to scale up the technologies needed to speed a transition to cleaner energy and transport. The UK's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that it is "the duty of every responsible government" to reboot economies along climate-resilient lines.  Leading figures from Germany, the EU and UK have also made similar calls.

Fatih Birol (quoted by Reuters) said: “The big time is about to come, but they need a push” adding that the economic stimulus packages being delivered worldwide offer an ideal vehicle for change.

Birol is calling on governments to broaden support for well-established paths to reducing carbon emissions, such as embracing greater energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy to create jobs and serve climate goals. He also wants them to consider offering promising technologies the kind of subsidy and policy support that have helped to propel spectacular growth in wind and solar power from a low base over the past decade.

The IEA will publish a special edition of its annual World Energy Outlook on June 18 to spell out green job-creation policy options and is also due to host a Clean Energy Transitions Summit on July 9.

Speaking at the St Petersburg Climate Dialogue event UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told global leaders that it is "duty of every responsible government" to reboot economies along climate-resilient lines.

"This means investing in industries and infrastructure that can turn the tide on climate change."

"And it means doing everything that we can to boost resilience by shaping economies that can withstand everything that nature throws at us."

UK Business Secretary and COP26 President Alok Sharma, speaking at the same two-day climate diplomacy conference - attended virtually by more than 30 environment ministers from around the world -  promised that the UK would work around the clock to raise the bar on climate action in the lead up to COP26 which will now take place in Glasgow in 2021.

Sharma said: "As incoming COP presidency, our promise from the UK, together with [partner] Italy, is that our teams are going to work night and day to raise the ambition on climate change, and this does mean more ambition to reduce emissions, more ambition to build resilience, and more ambition to cooperate with each other, as we have done and shown today."

He added that the extended lead up to CoP26 provided a period where the world can "ramp up momentum towards climate-resilient, zero-carbon economy".

In the same session, Germany's Chancellor Merkel explicitly backed European Commission plans to introduce a European Green Deal and enhance the bloc's emissions target to a 50 to 55 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 against 1990 levels.

Mrs Merkel said: "We will combine climate action with new economic perspectives and new jobs.

"Let me be clear: There will be a difficult debate about the allocation of funds. But it is important that recovery programmes always keep an eye on the climate, we must not sideline climate but invest in climate technologies."

Climate and environment ministers from 17 of the EU's 27 member states have confirmed their support for the Green New Deal to be put at the heart of the bloc's EU recovery plan. The ministers, including those from France and Germany, are urging Europe to remember the challenges of climate change when designing long-term strategies for a resilient recovery from the pandemic.

A letter from the 17 signatories says: “The focus is presently on fighting the pandemic and its immediate consequences. We should, however, begin to prepare ourselves to rebuild our economy and to introduce the necessary recovery plans to bring renewed, sustainable progress and prosperity back to Europe and its citizens.

“While doing so, we must not lose sight of the persisting climate and ecological crisis. Building momentum to fight this battle has to stay high on the political agenda.”

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has said that renewable energy could power an economic recovery from Covid-19 by spurring global GDP gains of almost $100tn (£80tn) between now and 2050. A new report found that accelerating investment in renewable energy could generate huge economic benefits while helping to tackle the global climate emergency.

In related news, the UK's Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is to present advice to the government on supporting a resilient, low carbon economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis as part of its annual assessment of the UK's progress towards its 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal this summer.

The CCC says it will consider the impact of the pandemic on the UK's climate goals, as it explained its revised work programme for 2020 in response to the disruption caused by the pandemic and lockdown.

The CCC will be writing to ministers calling for economic rebuilding efforts to support a "just transition" towards net zero emissions, while also strengthening the UK's preparedness for the escalating impacts of climate change.

CCC Chief Executive Chris Stark said: "Responding to the pandemic is, rightly, the immediate priority for everyone.

"Eventually, thoughts will turn to the need to rebuild after coronavirus - the climate priorities can help shape these efforts. The Committee will offer advice to government on constructing a resilient recovery. Coronavirus is teaching us all the value of prudent planning for global shocks."

The Committee has confirmed that several key aspects of its work this year have had to be pushed back as a result of the virus outbreak, including its much-anticipated advice to the government on the level of ambition and measures required to meet statutory carbon targets in the mid-2030s.

The CCC's advice on Sixth Carbon Budget, covering 2033-37 period, has had its publication delayed from September to December 2020. 

In an interview reported by the BBC, Chris Stark said it could be cheaper, better for the economy, and climate-friendly to expand fibre optics rather than spend £28bn on new roads, as promised in the Budget. 

He said that the Government’s plans for road-building are predicated on a 1% growth a year in demand for travel but the experience of the lockdown in response to Covid-19 has taught many people they can effectively work from home using video conferencing and related technologies.

Chris Stark told BBC News: “The Government mustn’t be investing in anything likely to increase carbon emissions. I expect that video conferencing will become the new normal, and we won’t return to travelling the way we did.

“I would spend the roads budget on fibre. You would get a huge return to the economy with people having better connections."

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