With the rapid spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) driving an economic slowdown and triggering a steep drop in global oil prices, national governments are considering their options for economic stimulus—prompting analysts and advocates to wonder whether a new package of government incentives and subsidies will undercut carbon reduction goals or reinforce them.
The questions begin in China, where economic activity “is gradually shuddering back to life,” Bloomberg Green reported Monday. “After weeks of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and manufacturing delays, some signs of normalcy are returning.”
Last month, Carbon Brief reported the country’s carbon dioxide emissions were down by about 100 million tonnes, or 25%, and that energy and industrial demand might not yet have hit bottom. But while “China’s measures to minimize the spread of the virus dramatically cut carbon emissions and air pollution, the silver lining is temporary,” Bloomberg says.
“In February, Chinese President Xi Jingping stressed that the country should not only ‘win the war with the virus’ but also ‘achieve this year’s targets for social and economic development’,” the news agency recalls. And now, after weeks of restrictions that contained the virus but damaged the economy, “there are already signs of a coming spending binge to compensate. An investment of tens of trillions of yuan has been planned for major projects across the country this year, including gas pipelines and nuclear power plants.”
“The Chinese government’s coming stimulus measures in response to the disruption could outweigh these shorter-term impacts on energy and emissions,” wrote Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
“I don’t think China will go back down the old road of development with huge pollution in the long term, but in a time like this, the government might adjust its priorities,” added Qian Guoqiang, a director at Beijing-based SinoCarbon Innovation & Investment Co.
Bloomberg adds that “China’s experience may not be unique,” suggesting that “in a post-coronavirus world, growth may take priority over limiting emissions.”
But a day later, Canadian climate advocates were suggesting that more ambitious measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—not traditional subsidies to fossil fuel megaprojects—are precisely the kind of job-creating, community-building initiatives that can reverse the economic impacts of the coronavirus. “Representatives for environmental, labour, social justice, Indigenous, and faith-based groups were on Parliament Hill on Tuesday morning to urge the Liberal government to stay focused on the environment in the budget, despite emerging economic concerns that may put pressure on Ottawa to shift its fiscal plan,” iPolitics reports.
Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu pointed to the “temptation to double down on the status quo” in times of economic uncertainty. But “Abreu said the upcoming decade will define Canada’s role in the global green economy and that new investments, including in retraining oil and gas workers to transition to greener sectors and encouraging banks to invest in clean energy, can be part of the fiscal response to the new economic headwinds,” the capital precinct publication notes.
“We’re saying that rather than doing that, Canada must actually take this moment to figure out what a new vision for Canada looks like, a vision that addresses the climate crisis and other economic challenges,” Abreu said. ‘This is the No. 1, from my perspective, job creation moment for Canada,” she added, noting that most of the buildings that will still be standing in 2050 have already been built.
“We need to be thinking about how we’re going to improve the efficiency of those buildings to meet that net-zero by 2050 pledge,” she said. “And that means employing thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of workers.”
Which means that “this is stimulus spending. This is something that we can do to both create a market for the climate-saving measures that will transform our energy systems while creating more liquidity in the market.”
Unifor national representative Ken Bondy added that incentives for zero-emission vehicle fleets would help keep auto manufacturing jobs in Ontario. “Those fleets can all be purchased from vehicles that are made by Canadians.”
Environment and Climate Minister Jonathan Wilkinson had a similar message yesterday about the economic benefits of climate action. “I think there is a very significant upside associated with investments in climate change, in cleantech,” he said. ” I think that’s something we recognize through the investments we’ve already made, but certainly my expectation is that the commitments to addressing climate change will be reflected in the budget.”