Coronavirus relief funds could easily pay to stop the worst of climate change while rebooting economies
Are governments and companies willing and able to turn toward a cleaner, more prosperous future to the benefit of all?
<p>That's around 15 percent of <a href="https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD">global GDP</a>, 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.</p><p>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 <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/09/revealed-covid-recovery-plans-threaten-global-climate-hopes">investment into infrastructure and economies</a>. Whether those are climate-friendly investments or not <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/09/revealed-covid-recovery-plans-threaten-global-climate-hopes">still remains to be seen</a>.<br/></p><p>While the world's bout with the virus is far from over, there is already talk amongst leaders like <a href="https://joebiden.com/build-back-better/#">Joe Biden</a> and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2020/jun/30/boris-johnson-sets-out-plan-to-build-back-better-and-bolder-after-covid-19-crisis-video">Boris Johnson</a> about rebuilding toward a more sustainable, more resilient future. </p><p>The global economic rebuild could include efforts to avoid the worst impacts of one of today's looming mega-threats: climate change.</p><h3>Money needed to achieve climate goals</h3><p>Moving toward a cleaner energy world is <a href="https://ar5-syr.ipcc.ch/topic_pathways.php#content_3_4">cheaper than many people perceive</a>. </p><p>My work at the Electric Power Research Institute, University of Tennessee and with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=LjmiTtQAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao">focuses on the costs and benefits of energy and climate decisions</a> made by governments and companies. </p><p>According to research done by me and my colleagues, we estimate it would cost around <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.abc9697">$1.4 trillion per year over the next five years</a> 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. </p><p>In other words, it is by no means impossible to hold <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/">global temperature rise to +1.5 C (2.7 F)</a>.</p><h3>A lot is already being spent on climate initiatives</h3><p>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. </p><p>Countries are projected to invest an estimated <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-018-0179-z">$1.1 trillion per year</a> over the next five years into low-carbon energy strategies. This pathway would take the world toward <a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/">3 degrees Celsius of warming</a>, a level that could be <a href="https://ar5-syr.ipcc.ch/topic_futurechanges.php">quite harmful for the planet</a>. </p><p>Much of this funding comes in response to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2594">national, state and local</a> policy mandates and incentives. But a lot is happening thanks to <a href="https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/a34372005/solar-cheapest-energy-ever/">pure economics</a> as well: companies aiming to profit from new clean energy installations, which are becoming increasingly more affordable in many places.</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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 <a href="https://unfccc.int/process/conferences/pastconferences/paris-climate-change-conference-november-2015/paris-agreement">Paris climate agreement</a>.</p><h3>Change course, then move forward<br/></h3><p>President-elect Joe Biden is calling for some <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/">$1.7 trillion investment in clean energy and energy efficiency</a> 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. </p><p>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 <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/09/revealed-covid-recovery-plans-threaten-global-climate-hopes">long-term economic growth, too</a>. And that's the money I am suggesting could be directed toward climate-friendly investments. </p><p>Meeting the Paris goals will ultimately demand <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-018-0179-z">continued and increasing investments going forward</a>, 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.</p><p>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? </p><p>Public funding appears to be available – for now – and given how massive this funding is, it provides a unique opportunity to catalyze the <a href="https://www.climateworks.org/report/recasting-the-golden-key/">development, deployment and dissemination of clean technologies</a> during the next decade, an absolutely critical period in the fight against climate change.<img alt="The Conversation" height="1" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/149067/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" width="1"></p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/david-l-mccollum-1172129">David L. McCollum</a>, is a Senior Research Scientist at the <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-tennessee-688">University of Tennessee</a></em></p><p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-relief-funds-could-easily-pay-to-stop-the-worst-of-climate-change-while-rebooting-economies-149067">original article</a>.</em></p>
<p><em>Banner photo: </em><em>The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) inaugurating a new solar farm in February 2020. (Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/unmissmultimedia/49621970577/in/photolist-2iAVz3R-2iAUcFo-2iAVzvV-2ij1Tiu-2iYi6fb-2iiYrnT-2jtCytU-2jfj84K-2jfoksd-2iYNKDX-2iuEsZd-2iYL21m-2jfokR4-2iYL1Sk-2j53WAE-2iYNKJ6-2jJ6iPF-2jtGGB8-2j4YHMC-2jtFoWu-2jtCzKS-2jtFo23-2j55iof-2j4YJK4-2j22EYd-2j22EZR-2j26TA8-2j22F1C-2j25iZg-2jsYGvu-2j25j1t-2j26TAD-2j22EYy-2jtC6Rq-2jtGcDo-2jtGesU-2jtC4rF-2j25iZB-2j52obf-2j53WBS-2jgP1yf-2jsYrCy-2jtC4x7-2j52oDV-2j26TAU-2i8m8aq-2j52oa3-2jgMHZ4-2jgJPUd-2jgMJmS" target="_blank">UNMISS/flickr</a>)</em></p>
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