Only massive investment in clean energy can help overcome the economic crisis caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic while setting the world on a path to meeting its objectives to slow climate change, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday.
In its annual report looking into energy markets in the decades to come, the IEA presents several scenarios as governments try to balance the health of their citizens and their economies.
For the first time, the World Energy Outlook report includes a pathway that would see the world achieve carbon neutrality in 2050.
That is an objective some governments have already set themselves and one that would help ensure the rise in global temperatures is contained to well below 2 degrees C, the bedrock target of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
While the world economy has taken a knock it will only provide a temporary drop in emissions unless policies change sharply, the IEA warned.
“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline,” said IEA’s director, Fatih Birol.
“The economic downturn has temporarily suppressed emissions,” he added.
The IEA estimates energy-related CO2 emissions will fall by 7 percent this year.
– Cleaner air than in lockdowns –
But as governments contemplate additional economic stimulus they could advance their climate objectives by directing investment into clean energy.
“A step-change in clean energy investment, in line with the IEA Sustainable Recovery Plan, offers a way to boost economic recovery, create jobs and reduce emissions,” said the IEA.
Earlier this year the IEA along with the International Monetary fund presented a blueprint for governments to use environmental spending to create jobs and spur economic recovery.
It calls for additional investment of $1 trillion a year for the next three years towards improvements in energy efficiency, low-carbon power and electricity grids, and more sustainable fuels.
Such an effort would have an immediate impact on the trajectory of emissions, making “2019 the definitive peak for global CO2 emissions”.
Moving onto what the IEA calls its sustainable development scenario results in “cleaner air than during the 2020 lockdowns… without the disruptions to economic activity or people’s lives”.
– Carbon neutral, climate positive –
However it warned that adding renewable power sources to the electricity grid will not be enough, with existing industry needing to reduce its carbon footprint.
A number of nations have set targets to become carbon neutral in 2050, such as the EU, and for the first time the IEA has plotted out what would be necessary to achieve that goal worldwide.
In addition to further accelerating the uptake of clean energy and electric vehicles, the IEA found that individual behaviour would need to change with less travel by car for short distances, lower speed limits and taking fewer short-haul flights.
“Achieving this pathway would be extremely challenging, but would make a significant difference in terms of reducing the risks of damaging climate change” as it would boost chances that the global increase in temperatures remains under 2 degrees C.
The group Christian Aid agreed that there is a unique chance for governments to act.
“With vast amounts of economic stimulus being spent there is an opportunity like no other to put the world on a path that secures a safe climate for everyone,” said the group’s climate expert Kat Kramer.
But she warned it’s not yet clear whether the transition to a zero-carbon economy will come fast enough to prevent the most destructive impacts of the climate crisis as extreme weather and hotter temperatures already causing misery around the world.