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Post-COVID Economy Drives Higher Emissions as Green Recovery Promises Fall Flat

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This story includes details about the impacts of climate change that may be difficult for some readers. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this crisis situation here is a list of resources on how to cope with fears and feelings about the scope and pace of the climate crisis.

With oil prices and output on the rise, fossil fuel producers are patting their wallets and smiling again—and that’s bad news for the planet. 

As much of the developed world starts to recover from the COVID pandemic, many of the big economies are back on the growth track. Energy shortages and rapidly rising prices for oil, gas, and coal are spurring the fossil fuel industry to ramp up output. 

Production of coal—the most damaging of climate-changing greenhouse gases—is expanding fast, particularly in China, the United States, and India. 

The latest Climate Transparency Report—put together by 16 environmental and research organizations around the world—analyzes energy use among the G20 group of countries, together responsible for 75% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

The report says that as a result of the slump in economic activity caused by the COVID pandemic, there was a 6% drop in CO2 emissions among the G20 countries in 2020. Now that process is being reversed, with a 4% emissions increase forecast for the G20 group this year. 

Much-hyped talk of a green recovery and promises of rebuilding economies in a more sustainable way in order to avoid climate catastrophe are being brushed aside, says the report. 

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the G20 has mobilized US$14.2 trillion in total stimulus spending, to keep health services, households, and businesses afloat,” the study states.

But “when implementing recovery packages, governments missed the opportunity to transition to low-carbon economies. Only $300 billion of the $1.8 trillion total recovery spending was directed to the much-heralded green recovery.”

The G20 has also gone back on pledges to put an end to subsidies for the fossil fuel industry: Despite all the talk of a climate emergency, the report says the grouping of the world’s most industrialized countries poured subsidies of $298 billion into the sector between January 2020 to August 2021.

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund calculated global fossil fuel subsidies at $5.9 trillion in 2020—$11.2 million per minute, every minute of every hour of every day in the year.

The Climate Transparency Report cites the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Canada as the most generous with subsidy handouts. 

All this casts a shadow over the COP 26 climate conference, due to start in Glasgow, Scotland at the beginning of next month. The Glasgow meeting is being billed as the last opportunity to prevent irreversible and devastating changes to the world’s climate.

All the G20 countries have agreed to make pledges in advance of the Glasgow conference, committing to steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Saudi Arabia—the world’s biggest oil exporter and often seen as one of the main opponents of concerted international action on climate change—has yet to come up with its proposals.

Though China, by far the world’s biggest climate polluter, has made significant progress in cutting emissions in certain sectors, announcing in September that it would end all financing for overseas coal projects. But Beijing has yet to commit to an updated 2030 target under the Paris Agreement.

The Climate Transparency Report indicates that once again, economic goals are taking precedence over the need to combat the dangers posed by a warming world.

In order to encourage increased coal production, China—the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal—is removing market price caps. The report also forecasts coal consumption will rise 18% in the U.S. and 17% in India this year.

The study does contain some pieces of good news. 

The renewables revolution is gathering pace, with record amounts of new capacity installed in G20 countries—led by China—last year. 

The report says that by the end of this year, 12% of the G20 countries’ total primary energy supply is likely to be fed from renewables, including hydro, up from 9% only two years ago.