In the immediate aftermath of the easing of global lockdowns last year, the United Nations had urged the world’s governments to re-build economies shattered by the covid-19 pandemic on the back of renewable energy (RE). To energy policy experts, the pandemic-led economic downturn presented an opportunity for countries to move away from fossil fuels and focus on a "green revival".
However, as early as July of last year, there were growing signs that G20 nations and others were, in fact, relying on oil, coal and gas to re-build their economies. And now, the fossil fuel cat is out of the bag. A new report published on 10 March by the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project (OUERP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), states that only 18% of recovery spending announced in 2020 by the world’s fifty biggest economies can be considered green.
#COVID19 recovery spending has fallen short of nations’ commitments to build back more sustainably.— UN Environment Programme (@UNEP) March 11, 2021
We need a green recovery, which can bring stronger economic growth, while helping to meet global environmental targets & addressing structural inequality. pic.twitter.com/C77lwu8KyA
The report, Are We Building Back Better? Evidence From 2020 And Pathways For Inclusive Green Recovery Spending analysed the covid-19-related fiscal recovery efforts announced by the leading economies, including India. It finds that of the $14.6 trillion in recovery spending announced by the fifty countries, a mere $368 billion could be classified as green recovery. The report is based on weekly-updated data from OUERP’s Global Recovery Observatory, which lists over 3,500 policies across the world’s fifty largest economies. The report breaks down the $368 billion figure into heads of low carbon energy, green transport, green building upgrades, nature based solutions and green r&d. Investments in each of these categories have been extremely low.
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According to the Global Recovery Observatory, of India’s $16 billion recovery spending policies, only 5% is in the form of green recovery. Of the recovery amount, $6.9 billion alone is allocated towards traditional fossil fuel energy infrastructure investment. India has been relying on coal to fuel its economic recovery through the pandemic. On June 18 last year, prime minister Narendra Modi announced the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. Earlier this week, Coal India Limited (CIL) approved 32 new coal mining projects for the current financial year, with an estimated cost of ₹47,000 cr. This renewed turn to coal has been accompanied by a surge in proposals to roll back environmental regulations. Through the pandemic, India has tabled at least 31 proposals to open up national parks and sanctuaries for infrastructure and energy projects.
“Despite positive steps towards a sustainable covid-19 recovery from a few leading nations, the world has so far fallen short of matching aspirations to build back better. But opportunities to spend wisely on recovery are not yet over. Governments can use this moment to secure long-term economic, social, and environmental prosperity,” said Brian O’Callaghan, the author of Are We Building Back Better?
The UNEP report follows hard on the heels of another study that pointed out that countries are lagging behind in cutting carbon emissions. As this column reported last week, global emissions cuts need to be ten times higher than present levels for us to have any chance of controlling climate change. A fossil-fuel led covid-19 recovery is going to seriously jeopardise this challenge.