Jul 20, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Global COVID-19 recovery plans aren't very green, analyses show

Illustration of a dollar that looks like cracked earth with a tiny plant growing out of it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Two new analyses show that governments' economic responses to COVID-19 haven't been remotely as climate-friendly as multilateral agencies and advocates called for when the crisis took hold last year.

Driving the news, part 1: An International Energy Agency report finds that as of this year's second quarter, 2% — or $380 billion — of the $16 trillion worldwide fiscal response has been allocated to clean energy measures.

  • A lot of that $16 trillion went toward emergency support and relief to people and companies.
  • But even looking at longer-term recovery and growth-related spending, clean energy is still a fraction of the $2.3 trillion in that category.

Driving the news, part 2: The research firm BloombergNEF, in a separate analysis, concludes: "Calls for a green economic recovery have thus far largely fallen on deaf ears, with much more funding targeted at CO2-intensive sectors."

  • Their findings, part of a wider new climate policy report released in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, explore measures in the G20 group of nations.
  • Their assessment is that $363 billion has been allocated for various kinds of "green" efforts, while over $1.2 trillion has been set aside for "carbon-intensive sectors such as aviation and construction with no green element."

Why it matters: Groups like the IEA, International Monetary Fund and environmentalists say that recovery packages should serve the dual purpose of restoring economies while helping to cut carbon emissions.

The findings come as emissions have rebounded from their big decline during the last year's pandemic restrictions and may be heading for record highs.

What they're saying: "Many governments may have talked about the importance of building back better for a cleaner future, but many of them are yet to put their money where their mouth is," IEA head Fatih Birol said.

What we're watching: In the U.S, the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package Senate Democrats hope to pass, which is slated to have major clean energy spending and tax incentives.

The proposed bipartisan infrastructure plan has smaller but still significant provisions, including $73 billion in grid and transmission spending.

Reproduced from an IEA report; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from an IEA report; Chart: Axios Visuals

The new IEA analysis projects that global carbon emissions are heading for a new record despite some green provisions in governments' recovery plans to date.

The big picture: Check out the middle line in the chart above.

  • It shows IEA's top-line finding that even if the clean energy measures in nations' recovery measures to date are implemented, energy-related CO2 emissions — that is, the lion's share — will keep rising.
  • The provisions and the private resources they would leverage lead to lower emissions than would have occurred absent the efforts, but it's nothing close to an emissions trajectory consistent with Paris Agreement targets.

The bottom line: "The sums of money, both public and private, being mobilised worldwide by recovery plans fall well short of what is needed to reach international climate goals," IEA said in a statement alongside the analysis.

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