What does a green recovery look like? That is the question governments around the world are considering when deciding how to align their $ 12 trillion economic rescue packages to tackle the coronavirus pandemic with their obligations under the Paris climate agreement.
The UK is expected to announce a 10-point recovery plan this week, and observers have warned that if it lacks ambition, it could undermine global goals to limit catastrophic climate breakdown.
While some countries, particularly the EU, and especially member states France and Germany, have emphasized a push for low-carbon economic growth, prioritizing renewable energy, green transport, nature restoration and other projects. beneficial to the environment, others, including Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – no.
The Guardian analysis has also revealed that in some countries, such as South Korea, the United States and China, the green part of a national economic rescue package has been overtaken by high-carbon elements, including business bailouts. from fossil fuels or carbon-intensive industries. like airlines.
There are many possible approaches to an ecological recovery, but economists and advisers have identified a set of key measures that are available to most governments in some form, that would help shift national economies from fossil fuels to a permanently low level. in carbon. establish a balance and create new jobs quickly, to compensate for job losses resulting from the pandemic and closures.
The targets countries have set so far on reducing greenhouse gases represent only about 15% of the effort required to meet the Paris agreement, according to the International Energy Agency. Fatih Birol, executive director of the agency, warned: “There is a big gap here. This is definitely not a very encouraging figure. Low economic growth [such as that caused by the pandemic] It is not a low-emission strategy: we need the right policies to achieve economic growth and, at the same time, reduce emissions. We need an ecological recovery. “
The IEA has estimated that 9 million new jobs could be created worldwide over the next year if countries follow a path of ecological recovery.
Few countries are as good at energy efficiency as they should be, after years of relatively cheap fuel. Older homes tend to be drafty, and in cold climates many rely on fossil fuels for heating. In warmer countries, improved air conditioning could lower temperatures by 0.4 ° C by the end of the century, through reductions in refrigerant gases and carbon dioxide.
Simple measures such as ceiling and wall insulation, window replacement, switching to low-carbon heat sources such as heat pumps or district heating systems, and modernizing air conditioning equipment in hot countries, can generate great benefits while saving time. money by reducing energy use. But the upfront costs and inconvenience of construction works deter landlords, while renters have even fewer incentives. That means that in most countries government intervention is needed, either to regulate to force people and businesses to make improvements, or to provide subsidies to make it more attractive.
This work is labor-intensive and produces quick returns, which is why economists consider it the lowest fruit for an ecological recovery.
Electric vehicle charging infrastructure
Transportation is a growing source of carbon emissions and one of the main causes of outdoor air pollution that claims 4.5 million lives a year worldwide. Switching to electric vehicles would reduce those problems dramatically, and the costs of electric vehicles have fallen rapidly in recent years. The lifetime costs of electric vehicles are already lower than those of fossil fuel cars due to lower fuel costs.
One factor holding back the adoption of electric vehicles is the lack of charging stations. Building grid-connected charging networks will be essential, and this job is also labor-intensive, with a mix of highly skilled and unskilled work, and would provide long-term benefits in cities.
Blockades around the world have caused an explosion in video conferencing this year. However, low broadband speeds remain a problem for many, particularly in rural areas where it is more expensive to deploy the necessary high-speed cables. Delivering broadband infrastructure would help more people work from home, provide a social benefit to isolated areas, and reduce the need to travel. Much of the work involves digging roads and is “out of the box” as the technology exists but must be implemented. Government incentives or bill taxes could pay for it, as the cost to people hoping for a better connection is often high.
Restoration of nature
Tree cultivation is one of the main ways to address the climate crisis and provides a way to counter our continued destruction of vital landscapes and wildlife habitats. Other forms of nature restoration provide similar benefits, from rewetting peatlands to rejuvenating depleted soils. Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis have received little attention in the past, but there is a growing movement around the world to restore landscapes and reap the carbon benefits that this brings. These projects can provide jobs in rural areas and an alternative to intensive agriculture.
Building resilience in infrastructure and flood defenses
Some of the impacts of climate collapse are now unavoidable, and some are already evident, so efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be accompanied by measures to build our resilience to extreme weather. Infrastructure changes, such as transportation, communications, water and energy networks will be needed to survive floods, heat waves and droughts. Flood protection plans, including rivers and seawalls, must also be a priority for countries around the world that are likely to experience heavier rains and fiercer storms.
The absence of traffic on the roads during the blockade prompted urban dwellers around the world to reinvent life without polluting cars, as suddenly the sky cleared, birds sang, and nature returned to the deserted streets. Walking and biking are much easier when there are fewer cars or when motorized traffic is better managed. Cities have taken advantage of the unexpected pause to redesign the streets and encourage walking and cycling. Road construction works that prioritize low-carbon transport would provide out-of-the-box jobs in many urban centers, as well as long-term health benefits and a safer environment.
More renewable electricity, sometimes from intermittent sources, will mean that a grid overhaul is needed in many countries. Upgrading to smart grid technology can also help with load balancing, reduce demand at key times, and save energy overall, as well as lower costs for energy companies. Consumers can also be equipped with smart meters to help them manage their demand and reduce their own energy use.
The price of solar and wind power has plummeted dramatically in recent years, making them competitive or even cheaper than fossil fuel electricity in many countries. This year there has been record growth in renewable electricity generation, despite the Covid-19 crisis.
In developing countries, solar panels or wind farms could transform the lives of the 600 million people who lack access to electricity, and rapid expansion could eliminate the need for coal-fired power plant construction plans that some rekindled in response to the pandemic. In rich countries, installing solar panels would create jobs and lower household energy bills. In less sunny regions, wind power may be a cheaper option – the UK is looking to power all households with offshore wind, according to plans unveiled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in October.
Recycling, use of resources and garbage
If masks are likely to be the enduring symbol of 2020, they are also the newest source of plastic waste, with thousands of tons of discarded PPE now adding to the scourge of plastic that fills our seas and litters the streets. Now is a good time for societies around the world to rethink how we handle our waste.
Recycling technology has improved, making more easily recyclable plastics than before, and for other recyclable materials like metal, the main problem in the developed world has been collection. Recycling can be profitable and provides skilled and semi-skilled jobs in a stable and long-term industry, making it another goal for green recovery. Picking up litter prevents it from reaching waterways and into the sea, where it can harm wildlife.
Hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, nuclear
In addition to investing in proven technologies like renewable energy and energy efficiency, countries should now invest money in newer forms of energy that are “now primetime ready” and need investments to scale, says IEA’s Birol. . Hydrogen is the most important among them, holding the promise of a low-carbon fuel that can replace natural gas and can provide the answer to the problem of shipping.
However, government incentives are still needed at this stage of technology development, and countries around the world are considering how to capitalize on the fuel’s potential.
Carbon capture and storage are also likely to be necessary to meet global emissions targets, although questions remain about how to pay for them. The technology could utilize an infrastructure similar to existing oil extraction, providing a route to a “just transition” from high-carbon to low-carbon jobs in the fossil fuel industry.
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