International Energy Agency chief warns of need to prevent post-lockdown surge in emissions
The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe, one of the world’s foremost energy experts has warned.
“This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.
Governments are planning to spend $9tn (£7.2tn) globally in the next few months on rescuing their economies from the coronavirus crisis, the IEA has calculated. The stimulus packages created this year will determine the shape of the global economy for the next three years, according to Birol, and within that time emissions must start to fall sharply and permanently, or climate targets will be out of reach.
“The next three years will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond,” Birol told the Guardian. “If we do not [take action] we will surely see a rebound in emissions. If emissions rebound, it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages.”
Carbon dioxide emissions plunged by a global average of 17% in April, compared with last year, but have since surged again to within about 5% of last year’s levels.
In a report published on Thursday, the IEA – the world’s gold standard for energy analysis – set out the first global blueprint for a green recovery, focusing on reforms to energy generation and consumption. Wind and solar power should be a top focus, the report advised, alongside energy efficiency improvements to buildings and industries, and the modernisation of electricity grids.
Creating jobs must be the priority for countries where millions have been thrown into unemployment by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. The IEA’s analysis shows that targeting green jobs – such as retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient, putting up solar panels and constructing wind farms – is more effective than pouring money into the high-carbon economy.