Climate Change

Fossil fuels have no place in COVID-19 recovery plans: UN chief

“We can invest in fossil fuels that are lethal or we can invest in renewable energy which is reliable. We have a choice,” said Antonio Guterres 

By Pratha Jhawar
Published: Friday 10 July 2020

“We can go back to where we were or we can invest in a more sustainable future. We have a choice,” the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said July 9, 2020, calling for a clean energy future, an end to new coal and external financing into the developing world.

He was speaking at the Clean Energy Transitions Summit: Towards a Sustainable Recovery, organised by the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organisation.

The UN chief said:

We can invest in fossil fuels that are volatile and lethal or we can invest in renewable energy which is reliable, clean and environmentally smart.

The aim of the summit was to attract international momentum towards real work for clean energy transition and give a boost to economies amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Guterres pointed out that the European Union and the Republic of Korea have committed to green recovery plans. Nigeria has reformed its fossil fuel subsidy framework. Canada has placed climate disclosure conditions on its bailout support. And several coalitions, investors and real economy stakeholders are advocating for a recovery aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

But the situation is not the same for everyone. Some countries are still reviving their economies by providing stimulus packages to oil and gas companies, while others are relying on coal-fire plants to kickstart their economies.

At least twice the recovery money was spent on fossil fuels as on clean energy, according to a new research on 2020 recovery packages released recently.

The UN General-Secretary, therefore, urged the world leaders to adopt clean energy root. He listed three vital reasons: 

  • Health: Outdoor air pollution worldwide causes nine million early deaths every year and shortens the human life span by an average of three years. This is a bigger toll on life expectancy than tobacco smoking.
  • Science: There has been an increasing evidence of climate disruption toll. Temperature increase should be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avert more disasters. For this, it is required to meet net-zero emissions targets by 2050 and 45 per cent cuts by 2030 with respect to 2010 levels.
  • Economics: Solar energy per kilowatt / hour is cheaper than coal in most countries. The real economy favours renewable energy (RE) and business case for the RE is better than coal in virtually every market. Fossil fuels are increasingly risky business for many takers. Therefore, the commercial business houses are also inclined towards clean energy and ask companies to change their business models in line with this.

He stressed that countries should consider climate risks in decision-making as they rescue, rebuild and reset their economies.

He highlighted that a clean and green recovery will have much safer and a healthier footing and will help societies become more resilient. It will create green jobs and will lead to sustainable growth.

He also suggested that the bailout support to industries such as aviation and shipping should be conditional and must be aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and money wastage in the fossil fuel subsidy should be avoided.

He added:

Every financial decision should take account of environmental and social impact as well as a price should be placed on carbon. Let us commit to no new coal today and end all external financing into the developing world. Let us embrace the vast opportunity of a clean energy future. This is more important than ever in the coming months as the companies, investors and countries make big financial decisions about the future. Nations must commit to net-zero targets by 2050 and submit more ambitious national climate plans before COP-26 near year.

The biggest polluter — the United States — has already exited the Paris Agreement. Given the different economies, stages of development and levels of COVID-19 their social and economic fabrics, a one-size-fit-all solution will be difficult to achieve.

The major emitters should be enforced with higher responsibilities. Under Paris Agreement, it is envisioned for developed country parties to deliver $1 trillion by 2020, which is yet to be mobilised.

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