Summary by Bridget Stuart
This week, we heard from Dr. Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Dr Birol’s spoke on the impact of COVID on the energy sector, and the Green Recovery of the future.
The global pandemic has led to the biggest shock to the energy industry since WWII, causing a decline more than 7 times larger than the 2008 financial crash. Fortunately, it is fossil fuels which have been hit the hardest, and renewable energies, such as wind or solar have actually proven to be relatively ‘COVID immune’. There has also been a 7% drop in emissions, thanks to the pandemic—the deepest decline in decades. However, there is a real risk that emissions will rebound with the economy and this decline will only be temporary.
This means that the next 3 years will be a ‘make or break’ period in determining whether countries will meet their 2050 net-zero goals. Recovery policies and economic packages centring on renewables will be essential in facilitating this. These policies must be aimed at maximising energy efficiency, improving pre-existing energy grids, and developing innovative technologies.
The questions considered green stimulus packages, the geopolitics of energy, COP26, OPEC countries, individual action and policy-making in emerging economies.
By Bridget Stuart
On April Fool’s Day 2020 it was announced that COP26 was being postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This vital climate conference, which was to bring 30,000 delegates from across the world to Glasgow on 9th – 19th November, has now been moved to an unspecified date in 2021. COP26 promised to be the most important climate conference since Paris 2015, so there has been much debate over what this means for climate action worldwide.
Obviously, the postponement of COP26 poses some major issues. It narrows the window in which nations can review and update their post-2020 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), delaying vital progress on emissions. This brings us ever-closer to the point of no return, beyond which there is no hope of limiting the global average temperature rise to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Also, the global economy is in ruins, and there is the very real threat that nations will use the pandemic to cut back on their environmental commitments. Donald Trump’s government has already begun to do this, revoking a number of environmental standards implemented by the Obama administration.
Postponing COP26 was necessary, and the right thing to do in the interests of public health and safety. But the situation highlights the strong and somewhat ironic parallels between COVID-19 and climate change. These are both global crises, putting every human life in danger. In both cases, global governments knew full-well what the potential impacts were, and yet failed, for the most part, to act with sufficient speed or intensity. Both crises also put the inequality inherent in our society into harsh perspective. In fact, COVID-19 has given us a glimpse into our future, one in which we face economic, societal and environmental collapse. But this could be the wake-up call we need and act as a catalyst for great change.
So, it is imperative that this extra time in the run-up to COP26 is put to use. The UK government, who many feared was not ready to lead the talks in November, now has the time to fully prepare. Globally, nations can increase their climate ambitions, ramp up their commitments and solidify their road-maps for the future. There is also time now for the world to recover slightly in the wake of COVID-19 and for all parties to fully refocus on climate breakdown.
A crucial benefit of the postponement is that COP26 will no longer be overshadowed by the US Presidential election or the USA’s recent departure from the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is currently due to take legal effect on November 4th. In fact, there is now the opportunity for a new US President to re-establish climate leadership and re-enter the Paris agreement. This would be a major boost for the talks next year.
So, perhaps delaying COP26 is a blessing in disguise. The economic and societal collapse resulting from this global pandemic presents a unique opportunity. What is clear is that we can never go back to ‘business as usual’. We should regrow our economy and restructure our society in a way that is sustainable and resilient, and, crucially, that extends strong support to the developing world.
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.