solar power africa

Coronavirus relief funds could easily pay to stop the worst of climate change while rebooting economies

As of late summer, governments around the world had pledged US$12.2 trillion of relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic.


That's around 15 percent of global GDP, three times larger than government spending put forward during and after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and enough for every adult in the world to receive a $2,000 check.

A good chunk of initial COVID-19 aid funding is being used – quite rightly – to support health care systems, preserve people's livelihoods and stabilize employment. But much is slated for investment into infrastructure and economies. Whether those are climate-friendly investments or not still remains to be seen.

While the world's bout with the virus is far from over, there is already talk amongst leaders like Joe Biden and Boris Johnson about rebuilding toward a more sustainable, more resilient future.

The global economic rebuild could include efforts to avoid the worst impacts of one of today's looming mega-threats: climate change.

Money needed to achieve climate goals

Moving toward a cleaner energy world is cheaper than many people perceive.

My work at the Electric Power Research Institute, University of Tennessee and with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change focuses on the costs and benefits of energy and climate decisions made by governments and companies.

According to research done by me and my colleagues, we estimate it would cost around $1.4 trillion per year over the next five years in clean-energy investment to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. This amount – if invested around the globe in things like solar and wind power, advanced power grids, carbon capture and storage, biofuels, electric vehicles, better insulated homes and other carbon-saving efforts – would start to bend the emissions curve, putting the world on a path to net-zero emissions by midcentury.

In other words, it is by no means impossible to hold global temperature rise to +1.5 C (2.7 F).

A lot is already being spent on climate initiatives

While $1.4 trillion per year sounds like a lot of money, it's actually not so much greater than what is already being spent on clean energy worldwide.

Countries are projected to invest an estimated $1.1 trillion per year over the next five years into low-carbon energy strategies. This pathway would take the world toward 3 degrees Celsius of warming, a level that could be quite harmful for the planet.

Much of this funding comes in response to national, state and local policy mandates and incentives. But a lot is happening thanks to pure economics as well: companies aiming to profit from new clean energy installations, which are becoming increasingly more affordable in many places.

Thus, taking into account the $1.1 trillion per year baked into the system already, the additional amount of clean energy investment needed to get on a 1.5 C track comes to just $0.3 trillion – or $300 billion – per year over the next five years.

For the entire globe, $300 billion per year over five years – or $1.5 trillion cumulative – is not an outrageous sum of money. It represents just one-eighth of the $12.2 trillion governments around the world have announced for COVID-19 relief to date.

Thus, a fraction of current bailout funding could provide the extra near-term boost the world needs to get on track to meet +2 or 1.5 C (+3.6 or 2.7 F) of warming, the levels countries committed to in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Change course, then move forward

President-elect Joe Biden is calling for some $1.7 trillion investment in clean energy and energy efficiency over the next 10 years. This level of investment, if also realized in other countries, could put the world on a path to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The U.S. has already committed trillions of dollars for COVID-19 relief, much of which is going toward important needs like patient care, vaccine research and direct economic bailouts. But economic recovery plans contain money for long-term economic growth, too. And that's the money I am suggesting could be directed toward climate-friendly investments.

Meeting the Paris goals will ultimately demand continued and increasing investments going forward, climbing above the $300 billion per year over the next five years that would get the world on track to 1.5 C (2.7 F). Nevertheless, an initial injection of funds into clean energy could achieve two goals: boost the global economy through large infrastructure spending and accelerate the deployment of clean energy production and energy efficiency measures.

Like with so many things, the question seems to be one of political will – are governments and companies willing and able to turn toward a cleaner, more prosperous future to the benefit of all?

Public funding appears to be available – for now – and given how massive this funding is, it provides a unique opportunity to catalyze the development, deployment and dissemination of clean technologies during the next decade, an absolutely critical period in the fight against climate change.The Conversation

David L. McCollum, is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Banner photo: The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) inaugurating a new solar farm in February 2020. (Credit: UNMISS/flickr)

Are governments and companies willing and able to turn toward a cleaner, more prosperous future to the benefit of all?

Democrats urge support for EPA union, testing Biden's pro-labor pledge

The letter poses a key test of President Biden's effort to position himself as the “the most pro-union president” in American history.
Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

A $52 billion proposal aims to protect New York Harbor from storm surges
Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash

A $52 billion proposal aims to protect New York Harbor from storm surges

The proposal for 12 movable sea barriers across waterways like Jamaica Bay replaces a disputed plan for a single, larger outer-harbor wall.

EPA administrator comes home to deliver important announcement

With Warren County as his backdrop, the N.C. native introduced the new Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights Office.

Nonprofits pay Texas farmers to not water crops during drought

As Texas continues to battle drought, groups are trying a market-based solution to help farmers and protect what little water is left.

Trump tried to open Alaska lands to resource development — what will Biden do?

The Bureau of Land Management is taking comments on whether it should open about 28 million acres to oil, gas and mineral extraction.
West Virginia lawmakers bypassed PSC on green energy

To land Berkshire Hathaway solar plant, WV bypassed the PSC

West Virginia lawmakers went around their own utility regulators, in an effort to make a deal for a green power plant in Jackson County.
beef’s carbon footprint
A C Moraes/Flickr

Reducing beef’s carbon footprint is key to achieving net-zero in Latin America and the Caribbean, new paper shows

Agriculture and related land-use changes are responsible for almost half of greenhouse gas emissions in the region, and ambitious changes to the food system are necessary to achieve these net-zero goals.

From our Newsroom
Failure of the universities: The culture gap is now near lethal

Universities are failing us

Our educational systems are failing to prepare people for existential environmental threats

Shell's new petrochemical complex in southwestern Pennsylvania

The Titans of Plastic

Pennsylvania becomes the newest sacrifice zone for America’s plastic addiction.

Ruth Greenspan Bell: Wealth and the climate dilemma

Ruth Greenspan Bell: Wealth and the climate dilemma

Developing countries that increase their fossil fuel production are at a crossroads: securing their own long-term well-being or earning revenue to finance programs to support immediate economic growth.

Solving the climate crisis will help both ‘sacrifice zones’ and ‘cute’ puffins

Solving the climate crisis will help both ‘sacrifice zones’ and ‘cute’ puffins

Curbing pollution for families in Chicago calms the climatic conditions that drive fish away from puffins half a continent away.

puffin tern recovery climate change

Good news: A good year for puffins and terns, despite climate change

A visit to a remote Maine island finds puffins and terns rebounding despite climate change

Optimism in the climate change fight

Optimism in the climate change fight

So much is happening so quickly. With the climate bill now law, here's what you need to know.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.