The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged leaders to choose a clean energy route for health, science and economics on Thursday at the opening ceremony of the International Energy Agency's (IEA) Clean Energy Transitions Summit.
The IEA's virtual summit, regarded as the year's biggest meeting on energy and climate, gathered over 40 ministers from countries representing almost 80% of global energy consumption and global carbon emissions.
Guterres key message from his speech was that governments worldwide should stop wasting money on fossil fuels when they take far-reaching decisions as they channel trillions of dollars of taxpayers' money into recovery strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As we design and implement these recovery plans, we have a choice. We can go back to where we were, or we can invest in a better, more sustainable future. We can invest in fossil fuels, whose markets are volatile and whose emissions lead to lethal air pollution or we can invest in renewable energy, which is reliable, clean and economically smart," he noted.
Guterres reiterated that although some countries have responded to COVID-19 with recovery plans putting the transition from fossil fuels at their core, some still have not got the message.
"Some countries have used stimulus plans to prop up oil and gas companies that were already struggling financially. Others have chosen to jumpstart coal-fired power plants that do not make financial or environmental sense," he stated.
The IEA reported earlier that the extent of recovery plans announced so far has reached $9 trillion and is expected to grow further throughout the year.
- Fossil fuels: increasingly risky investments
Guterres said that investing in clean energy is critical for health as outdoor air pollution is causing around 9 million early deaths every year and shortening human lifespans by an average of three years.
"This is a bigger toll on life expectancy than tobacco smoking," he warned.
He urged governments to also choose a clean energy route based on scientific research, with new evidence monthly of the increasing toll of climate disruption around the world.
"We must limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avert more and worse disasters. This means net-zero emissions by 2050, and 45% cuts by 2030 from 2010 levels. This is still achievable," he asserted.
He said his third rationale for a clean energy pathway is economics-based because solar and wind energy are now cheaper than coal in most countries.
"The business case for renewable energy is now better than coal in virtually every market. Fossil fuels are increasingly risky business with fewer takers. The right decisions can put countries on a much safer and healthier footing," he said.
- Next step is real-world implementation of decisions
He also stressed that support to industry and the aviation and shipping sectors should be conditional on alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
"Renewables offer three times more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. Let us commit to no new coal today and end all external financing of coal in the developing world. Coal has no place in COVID-19 recovery plans," Guterres stressed.
According to the IEA's Special Report on Sustainable Recovery published last month, $3 trillion in investments in the green recovery plan over the next three years could create nine million jobs per year while offering a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It is significant to ensure global emissions do not rebound and decline in a secure and sustainable way," Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said at the closing remarks of the summit.
Birol said the next step is the real-world implementation of the decisions to ensure the world recovers in a sustainable way.
"Now, it is time for all of us to get to work, building back our economies, bringing our citizens back to work, ensuring that 2019 was the definitive peak in emissions and building towards the resilient and sustainable energy systems of the future," Birol said.
"What I see clearly is momentum, momentum behind sustainable recovery and momentum behind clean energy transitions," he concluded.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya