Can we ensure further uptake of renewables and decarbonisation of the economy post-COVID -19?
By Jessica Tinkler MSc Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation Graduate (Ethical Team Intern Associate)
Covid-19 has called for drastic and unprecedented action from world leaders. It has taken a herculean effort to suppress the devastating impact of coronavirus and the challenge looks to persist long into the future. As lockdowns ease, this presents an opportunity to align environmental and economic agendas to ensure our own long-term survival.
The pandemic has revealed that it is possible to reduce emissions across polluting sectors when compelled. In the UK, lower energy demand has enabled ‘greener supplies’ to govern the grid, which might provide a flavour of a greener future if society demands it. Although absolute lockdown cannot be sustained long term, are there lessons to take from restrictions? And how could these insights inform sustainability and environmental agendas in the coming years?
While the coronavirus pandemic has dominated media headlines, for now, it is critical to see how the environmental discourse will develop in a post-Covid world.
A Tool for Economic Recovery?
While there are early signs of levelling or, in some cases, restoration, the pressure to revive global economies is mounting and governments seek to stimulate growth. Immediate responses to mediate the damage and absorb economic shocks must reform into longer-term solutions. This might resemble infrastructure investment or renewable energy pledges.
Fossil fuels seem a viable tool to instigate economic recovery, the option to invest in high carbon energy to stimulate growth is appealing. Australia, notorious for its high carbon energy mixture, looks set to hold natural gas at the heart of its Covid-19 recovery plan. Whether this will be reflective of wider recovery proposals remains to be seen.
With renewable energy production exceeding coal in the United States for the first time and the United Kingdom observing the first coal-free month ever, we could be optimistic for the future of green energy. In spite of this progress, however, the proportion of the global energy mix extracted from renewable sources and the efficiency of energy systems will still fall short of the 2030 targets of Sustainable Development Goal 7 without drastic amendments. Covid-19 has interrupted the supply chain of renewables, and consequently, the generation of electricity from renewable sources has declined, although less dramatically than its’ corrosive counterparts.
In a unanimous endeavour Greenpeace, HSBC, Siemens, Asda and the National Grid are among the organisations calling for the UK recovery plan to stress the decarbonisation of the economy. A recovery plan prioritising emission reductions will revive the economy and protect jobs, they insist. Renewable energies are quickly becoming cost-effective sources of energy and therefore offer a window of opportunity for the global economy in uncertain times. The UK should not neglect or overlook the medium- and long-term goals of the country and, instead, move environmental obligations to the forefront of the UK’s recovery plan. Implementing progressive policies and prioritising low-cost renewables will adapt markets and reflect a green economic revival. The EU has already pledged €750bn to a green recovery package, the largest green stimulus package ever, the question is whether the UK and other nations will follow suit.
On this World Environment Day, we should be able to look optimistically to a future with sustainable economic growth, powered by clean energy. World leaders could and should use this pandemic to leap into a new era of green energy and green living.