This week, the Guardian reported that “worst-case global heating scenarios may need to be revised upwards in light of a better understanding of the role of clouds.” This outlook is based on data from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled for their upcoming sixth assessment. “Recent modelling data suggests the climate is considerably more sensitive to carbon emissions than previously believed, and experts said the projections had the potential to be ‘incredibly alarming.” To date, it has proved extremely difficult to execute the kind of comprehensive change needed to meet the carbon emissions standards set by the Paris climate accord and to slow the momentum of business as usual. International agencies have been pleading for comprehensive reform of the energy industry to combat climate change for years, but so far that change has been incremental at best, and more often stagnant or even regressive from a climate perspective, as some political leaders around the globe walk back environmental protections.
But many experts think that the extraordinary circumstances we are currently living through provide a unique opportunity to reorient the global economy toward decarbonization. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold damage to the global economy, but this interruption to the status quo could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to construct what the World Economic Forum advocated as a “new energy order.”
And the World Economic Forum is far from alone in this stance. This week, NPR reported that “around the world leaders see opportunity in the global pandemic to address the other big problem humanity faces: climate change.” The report singles out such big-name international agencies as the United Nations, the International Energy Agency, and the European Union, all of which are either considering or actively drafting stimulus plans that hold climate concerns as a central consideration. “But here in the United States,” NPR writes, “climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions have not been a part of the $3 trillion in relief packages passed so far.” Time echoed this lack of action from the United States in a May article titled “As the Rest of the World Plans a Green Recovery, America Is Once Again Falling Behind.”
It’s true that just this month, the news broke that for the first time in 135 years the United States’ renewable energy consumption overtook consumption of coal in last year’s energy mix. But while there has been much ink spilled about the success of renewable energy as the fossil fuel industry, and especially coal, has been slammed by the novel coronavirus crisis, oil and gas are still king in the United States, and they are leading by a huge margin. This reality is in direct contrast to what is being recommended by the international agencies listed above and what PV Tech reports is “a raft of new studies” which has “come to underscore the business case of pushing renewables to the heart of the COVID-19 recovery, amid claims green energy plays offer a low-cost, high-return opportunity for investors.”
Plenty of non-governmental agencies have taken notice of these studies and the international trend toward green recovery, and some have banded together to create a Green Stimulus proposal reminiscent of the Green New Deal. The proposal “calls for spending at least $2 trillion to create jobs for such things as building and retrofitting houses, installing rooftop solar panels and deploying electric buses” and “ambitiously aims for 100 percent carbon-emission-free energy within a decade,” according to NPR.
One of the co-authors of the proposal, Julian Brave NoiseCat, Vice President of Policy and Strategy at Data for Progress, told NPR that “it is irresponsible from a very basic good government perspective to not have any of that [U.S. stimulus] money go to clean energy and fighting climate change."
In this unique moment in history, the world has an unprecedented chance to change the course of the global industry, a rare opportunity indeed. Even when approaching the matter from a purely economic standpoint, in an era when even Saudi Aramco admits that peak oil is just around the corner, the U.S. government would do well to not get left behind in the global clean energy transition.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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