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Governments’ failure to “build back better” after the COVID-19 pandemic will likely drive global greenhouse gas emissions to record levels over the next two years, putting a 1.5°C target for climate stabilization all but out of reach, the International Energy Agency (IEA) is warning this week.
“Emissions will rise again this year and next year, after a fall last year, and 2023 is now on track to see the highest levels of carbon dioxide output in human history, equalling or surpassing the record set in 2018,” The Guardian reports, citing an IEA release Tuesday. “The reason for the sharp rise is that governments have failed to invest in green energy as they have sought to rebuild their economies” after the pandemic.
A Guardian graph using IEA data shows energy-related greenhouse gas emissions rising from 31.4 billion tonnes in 2020 to 34.7 billion in 2023 based on 2020 policies, or 33.9 billion with “sustainable” policies, compared to the 27.9 Gt that would put the world on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Out of the more than US$16 trillion spent on the COVID-19 recovery, “only 2% is going to clean energy investments,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “This is by far not enough. What we will see is that 2023 will reach an all-time record. This is very worrying.”
The IEA analysis connects the projected increase in emissions to the need for clean energy investment in developing countries, where 90% of the forecast growth will occur. It shows that “big wealthy economies, such as the U.S., EU member states, Japan, and South Korea, have been investing in renewable energy and are on track to reduce their emissions,” The Guardian says. “But countries such as India, Indonesia, Latin American countries, and other emerging economies are falling behind in clean energy investments.”
That means “the most critical faultline is providing clean energy investments in emerging countries,” Birol said.
Last week, a group of developing countries issued a five-point plan for the climate finance commitments they’ll need to see from richer nations ahead of this year’s United Nations climate conference, COP 26, in Glasgow. The plan calls on G7 and G20 countries to keep their long-overdue promise to invest US$100 billion per year in international climate finance by 2020, allocate half of the funds for climate adaptation, and compensate the world’s most vulnerable countries for the irreversible loss and damage they’ve already undergone in the climate crisis.
Birol said there’s no lack of money for decarbonization projects in developing countries, just a perception that those projects are riskier for investors. “He called on institutions such as the International Monetary Fund to step up their help to direct funds towards clean energy projects,” The Guardian says.
“This $100 billion should be a floor, not a ceiling,” Birol said of the climate finance promise rich countries first made at the 2009 UN climate conference in Copenhagen. “Advanced economies have both an economic rationale and a moral obligation to supply climate finance to the emerging world.”
Last week, an analysis by London, UK-based Vivid Economics concluded that just 10% of the funds spent on pandemic recovery went to green energy or nature-based climate solutions, The Guardian says. Trillions “have been spent in ways that worsen the climate crisis and harm nature,” including a combined $4.8 trillion for road construction, airline bailouts, and support for carbon-intensive food production.
“Definitely governments could have done better,” said lead author and Vivid economist Jeffrey Beyer. “They’re spending public money on things that harm the public. It’s just shocking and impossible to justify. In some instances it would also have been cheaper to make better decisions.”
Vivid identified negative overall environmental impacts in 20 of the 30 national recovery plans it studied, and like the IEA, it found a difference across regions. “The EU as a whole, Denmark, France, Spain, and Germany, all made a strong show by turning more of their stimulus spending to environmentally beneficial ends,” The Guardian writes. “But some leading economies did not act so well; China and India spent far more on projects that would harm the climate and nature, such as coal-fired power plants. Russia came bottom of the league in terms of the harm caused by its stimulus.”
But Brian O’Callaghan, lead researcher at the Oxford University Economic Recovery project, cited analysis showing more than 560 examples of environmentally positive spending. “Despite lacklustre green investment to date, there remain strong opportunities for governments to jump on to green industry transitions to bring economic recovery alongside environmental progress,” he told The Guardian, particularly if vaccine programs create space for countries to apply a longer-term focus to their spending programs.
“Policy-makers must consider how green incentives can be integrated to traditionally neutral spending—for instance, requiring new hospitals to have the highest standards of energy efficiency, requiring new schools to be 100% powered by renewables, or mandating that all government-funded construction follows green procurement standards,” he said. Carbon Brief has a tracker showing the extent to which countries’ coronavirus recovery packages have supported a green recovery.