The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on clean energy progress

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a major impact on energy systems around the world, curbing investments and threatening to slow the expansion of key clean energy technologies. Looking at all the data so far on how the Covid-19 crisis is impacting clean energy transitions, 10 key themes emerge – and this article examines each of them.

 

CO2 emissions: Short-term shock does not guarantee sustained decline

The global pandemic has imposed unprecedented constraints on social and economic activity – particularly on mobility – with severe impacts on energy use. Global energy demand is expected to contract by 6% in 2020, the largest drop in more than 70 years. Global CO2 emissions are expected to decline 8% in 2020, falling to their lowest level since 2010. This drop in emissions is no cause for celebration, since it is the result of a global health crisis, surging unemployment and tremendous economic hardship. Even the flattening of CO2 emissions during the robust economic growth of 2019 was far from the annual 6% reduction required in the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), which is fully aligned with climate goals of the Paris Agreement.

 

Furthermore, after past economic downturns, emissions recovered rapidly as economies regained their footing. While the current crisis may have accelerated some structural changes – such as the decline of coal in Europe – the temporary drop in energy use resulting from mass restrictions on movement is far from sufficient. Smart and ambitious government policies will be needed to bring about the kind of sustained structural adjustments needed across a full range of sectors to achieve long-term climate goals.

 

Renewables have been resilient so far, but government support remains key

Renewable power sources have so far demonstrated resilience in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. The share of renewables in global electricity supply reached nearly 28% in the first quarter of 2020, up from 26% during the same period in 2019. 

Despite this resilience, renewables’ growth is expected to slow down in 2020. The world is set to add only 167 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity this year – 13% less than in 2019. This decline reflects delays in construction due to supply chain disruptions, lockdown measures and social distancing guidelines, as well as emerging financing challenges. The majority of delayed utility-scale projects are expected to come online in 2021, but installations of rooftop solar PV for businesses and households may continue to be depressed in the medium term without strong government support.

The share of renewables in global electricity supply reached nearly 28% in the first quarter of 2020, up from 26% during the same period in 2019.

Beyond electricity, renewables have been less resilient. Transport biofuel production is expected to contract by 13% in 2020 – its first drop in two decades. Renewable heat consumption is also likely to decline in 2020, mainly due to lower activity in the industrial sector. Adding to these difficulties, low oil and gas prices are making biofuels and renewable heat technologies less cost-competitive.

Governments have an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate clean energy transitions by making investment in renewables a key part of stimulus packages to reinvigorate their economies. Investing in renewables, whose costs continue to fall rapidly, can stimulate job creation and economic development while reducing emissions and fostering further innovation.

 

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COVID-19 Recovery: A Game-changer for Sustainable Urban Mobility

Opportunities for non-motorized transport infrastructure

How can we ensure that the COVID-19 recovery phase is a game-changer for planning, implementing, and financing more sustainable urban transport systems instead of losing the momentum and returning to old habits of using individual, fossil fuel-based transport solutions that pollute, contest, and burden our urban spaces?

 

This dichotomy of opportunities and challenges requires customized strategies for realizing sustainable urban mobility systems through:

(a) Sustaining and capitalizing on the new mobility patterns of people and the emergence of dynamic policy-making to expand non-motorized transport infrastructure.

(b) Reinforcing and adjusting investments in public transport and sustainable mobility infrastructure that already commenced prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financing solutions and supportive policy frameworks are needed for both strategies, not least because they will promote a sustainable recovery of our economies.

 

Opportunities and how we can leverage them?

To reduce the use of public transport given the infection risks, many city authorities announced and implemented ad hoc measures for repurposing road space and ensuring the safety of people walking and cycling in cities. Examples of this were observed in BrusselsMilanBerlinParisBogotá, Auckland, and many other cities around the world. It is important to build on this momentum of behavioural change and political agility to support the active mobility of people beyond the lockdown phase.

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How the ‘15-Minute City’ Could Help Post-Pandemic Recovery

A new C40 Cities report touts Paris’s model for putting essentials within close walking or biking distance as an economic boost for coronavirus-ravaged municipal budgets.

 

An international coalition of cities believes that the only path forward for mayors is funding green stimulus plans focused on job creation. The newly released Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery, released July 15 by C40 Cities, an international coalition of urban leaders focused on fighting climate change and promoting sustainable development, was developed by the organization’s Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force. The far-ranging series of plans offers a green prescription for financial stabilization that emphasizes several familiar pillars of progressive urbanism — renewable energy investment, energy-efficient buildings, improved mass transit, and spending on new parks and green space. One core idea: Cities are the “engines of the recovery,” and investing in their resilience is the best way to avoid economic disaster.

One of its recommendations has a more novel ring to it. The agenda recommends that “all residents will live in ‘15-minute cities.’” That term echoes the transformative ambitions of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has doubled down on car-free transit and pedestrian infrastructure in the French capital. Hidalgo made the idea that Parisians should be able to meet their shopping, work, recreational and cultural needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride a centerpiece of her recent reelection campaign.

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