Tenth of COVID-19 stimulus money could help world reach climate targets

The world could get on track to avert catastrophic climate change by investing a tenth of a planned $US12 trillion ($16.9 trillion) in pandemic recovery packages in reducing dependence on fossil fuels, climate scientists say.

With the stimulus representing about 15 per cent of global gross domestic product, or three times the commitment after the 2008 financial crisis, they argue the money could prove pivotal in meeting the temperature goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

A climate change protester outside Australia's embassy in London early this year as the bushfires raged and the coronavirus crisis was just beginning to unfold.
A climate change protester outside Australia’s embassy in London early this year as the bushfires raged and the coronavirus crisis was just beginning to unfold.Credit:AP

“It makes absolute sense not just to keep your economy alive with palliative care, but to restructure your economy so it’s future-ready,” said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, and a co-author of a paper published on Thursday outlining the findings.

The most ambitious goal in the Paris accord aims to cap the rise in global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists say could avert far more intense disasters, from wildfires and hurricanes to storm surges and floods.


The world could start to bring that target within reach if governments used 10 per cent of the planned stimulus to back climate-friendly projects such as renewable energy or energy efficiency every year for the next five years, according to the paper, published in the journal Science.

Public and private investors would also need to slash investment in fossil fuel-heavy sectors from a projected $US1.1 trillion per year over the next five years under existing climate plans, to closer to $US800 billion, to begin pivoting the global economy towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

While the European Union, Germany, France, South Korea and various others have pledged to support a low-carbon shift, governments have so far mostly used rescue packages to prop up business as usual, according to separate research by Energy Policy Tracker, a nonprofit research project.

Among G20 countries, the tracker has identified $US393 billion worth of government commitments to transport, buildings, power and extractive industries. Of this total, $US209 billion directly supported the production and consumption of fossil fuels, and $US145 billion went to renewable energy.

“Public commitments since the pandemic are so far critically insufficient to meet Paris targets,” said Ivetta Gerasimchuk, sustainable energy lead at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, who works on the tracker.


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