António Guterres warns governments risk squandering the opportunity to deliver a 'green recovery' that accelerates the net zero transition
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has today issued a stark warning that too many governments and businesses "have still not got the message" and risk engineering a carbon intensive recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
Speaking at the International Energy Agency's (IEA) virtual Clean Energy Transition Summit, Guterres warned that the opportunity to deliver a "green recovery" that accelerates climate action in support of the Paris Agreement was at risk of being squandered by countries that use stimulus funds to "prop up" fossil fuel firms and "jumpstart" coal-fired power plant development.
As such, Guterres reiterated his call for coal to have "no place in COVID-19 recovery plans", arguing there was a compelling economic, health, and environmental case for governments to "choose the clean energy route".
"Today, nations are taking far-reaching decisions as they channel trillions of dollars of taxpayers' money into recovery strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "As we design and implement these recovery plans, we have a choice. We can go back to where we were, or we can invest in a better, more sustainable future.
"We can invest in fossil fuels, whose markets are volatile and whose emissions lead to lethal air pollution. Or, we can invest in renewable energy, which is reliable, clean and economically smart."
Guterres praised those governments that have committed to green recovery plans, singling out the EU and South Korea for praise and highlighting how Nigeria has reformed its fossil fuel subsidy framework and Canada has placed climate disclosure conditions on its bail-out support in response to the pandemic.
But he warned that "many have still not got the message".
"Some countries have used stimulus plans to prop up oil and gas companies that were already struggling financially," he said. "Others have chosen to jumpstart coal-fired power plants that don't make financial or environmental sense."
Guterres cited new research on G20 recovery packages released this week that shows that twice as much recovery money has been spent on fossil fuels as clean energy.
He argued clean energy focused recovery plans offered multiple benefits, helping to slash air pollution, curb climate risks, and cut energy costs while creating jobs and driving economic growth.
"Per kilowatt hour, solar energy is now cheaper than coal in most countries," Guterres said. "If we had any doubt about the direction the wind is blowing, the real economy is showing us. The business case for renewable energy is now better than coal in virtually every market. Fossil fuels are increasingly risky business with fewer takers."
He also reiterated his six point plan for climate action in the run up to the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow next year, calling on governments to make societies more resilient; create green jobs and sustainable growth; ensure bailout support for sectors such as industry, aviation, and shipping conditional on alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement; end fossil fuel subsidies and place a price on carbon; consider climate risk in decision-making; and ensure every financial decision takes account of environmental and social impacts.
Specifically, he urged investors to demand that companies reveal transition plans to reach net zero emissions and called on governments to expand renewable energy auctions and "commit to no new coal, today, and end all external financing of coal in the developing world".
"Coal has no place in COVID-19 recovery plans," he added.
Finally, he reminded Ministers and officials from around the world that nations must commit to net zero emissions by 2050 and submit more ambitious national climate plans before COP-26 next year.
Guterres was speaking this morning at the start of the IEA's annual Clean Energy Transitions Summit, which today sees Ministers from countries representing the vast majority of global GDP meet virtually to discuss measures to boost economies, create jobs, reduce global emissions and make energy systems more resilient.
"The IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit represents the key moment in 2020 to build momentum towards international energy and climate goals," said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director at the IEA. "Rather than letting the Covid-19 crisis undermine our clean energy transitions, we need to take advantage of the massive economic recovery plans to achieve a definitive peak in carbon emissions and put the world on path to sustainable recovery."
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