Enormous stimulus packages to boost post-pandemic growth could worsen global warming with huge investments in fossil-fuel activities, an international group of researchers has said.
About US$12.8 trillion has been pledged to help companies and households recover from the worldwide crisis, with the G20 group of advanced economies accounting for about US$11 trillion of that figure.
That is about three times more than what was promised following the global economic crisis in 2008.
“This large-scale stimulus spending will shape the global economy for decades to come,” said the Energy Policy Tracker, a group of institutes that compiles data on post-COVID-19 public finance for energy.
“These decisions could trigger unbearable climate disasters or create a resilient and safe economy powered by clean energy,” the group said.
The project’s partners include Columbia University in New York, the Stockholm Environment Institute, the International Institute for Sustainable Development and Institute for Climate Economics.
They calculate that G20 countries have announced at least US$234 billion in public funding of fossil-fuel operations, and US$151 billion in renewable energy.
Other issues that complicate matters include regulatory, fiscal and monetary measures that can contradict each other.
In Canada, for example, money is to be allocated for electric-vehicle charging stations and also to support oil companies.
Germany plans to invest 1 billion euros (US$1.2 billion) in electric vehicles and just as much to renovate diesel-burning trucks.
India has unveiled support for coal and methanol projects along with funds for electric vehicles.
Vivid Economics, an advisory group, has studied 23 economic stimulus plans.
Only five countries or regions presented plans that had positive effects for the climate in its view — the EU, France, Germany, Spain and the UK.
One-third of the EU’s unprecedented 750 billion euro stimulus plan is slated to go to environmental projects.
“Most countries are not seizing opportunities for climate-friendly recovery,” World Resources Institute (WRI) researcher Joel Jaeger said. “More support is going to high-carbon activities than to low-carbon activities.”
A prime example is support for airlines, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that only four out of 30 carriers that are to receive aid must meet environmental conditions.
The IEA called that “a missed opportunity.”
The UN has also voiced concern, notably in the Production Gap Report issued by its environment program UNEP.
“Government responses to the COVID-19 crisis have tended to intensify patterns that existed prior to the pandemic,” the report said.
“Jurisdictions that already heavily subsidized the production of fossil fuels have increased this support, while those with stronger commitments to a transition to clean energy are now using stimulus and recovery packages to accelerate this shift,” it said.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has allocated about US$70 billion to fossil-fuel activities, the policy tracker said.
That said, crumbling public transport is also tipped to receive US$26 billion in aid.
However, of a total US$3 trillion in spending, just 1 percent is for environmental operations, the WRI said.
There is nonetheless some hope, as the world’s No. 2 emitter of greenhouse gases is mulling a new plan. US president-elect Joe Biden has pledged to spend US$2 trillion over four years on low-carbon infrastructure.
“What Biden will do depends on Congress,” where the balance of power depends on the result of elections for two senators from Georgia next month, Jaeger said.
Biden would also have some direct say over reforms such as new vehicle emissions standards.
Meanwhile China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, approved construction of 17 gigawatts of coal-powered generating stations in the first half of this year, more than in 2018 and last year combined, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air has said.
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