Our Burning Planet


Say ‘no’ to new coal, embrace a clean energy future

Say ‘no’ to new coal, embrace a clean energy future
Nations must commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 and submit more ambitious national climate plans before COP-26 next year, says UN Secretary-General António Guterres. (Photo: Unsplash / Matt Artz)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in remarks to the International Energy Agency Clean Energy Transition Summit on Thursday, called for a rapid transition to renewable energy — and no new investments in coal.

It is vital that we bring a sharper focus on the need to transition away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy future — a future that protects people and planet and promotes prosperity.

Today, nations are taking 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.

I am encouraged that some Covid response and recovery plans put the transition from fossil fuels at their core.

The EU and the Republic of Korea have committed to green recovery plans. Nigeria has reformed its fossil fuel subsidy framework. Canada has placed climate disclosure conditions on its bail-out support.

And a growing number of coalitions of investors and real economy stakeholders are advocating for a recovery aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

But many have still 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 don’t make financial or environmental sense.

New research on G20 recovery packages released this week shows that twice as much recovery money — taxpayers’ money — has been spent on fossil fuels as clean energy.

I would like to urge all leaders to choose the clean energy route for three vital reasons — health, science and economics:

First, health. Worldwide, outdoor air pollution is causing close to nine 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.

Second, science. All around the world, every month, there is new evidence of the increasing toll of climate disruption. We must limit temperature increase to 1.5°C 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.

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.

My third rationale for the clean energy pathway is economics. Per kilowatt-hour, solar energy is now cheaper than coal in most countries. If we had any doubt about the direction the wind is blowing, the real economy is showing us. The business case for renewable energy is now better than coal in virtually every market.

Fossil fuels are an increasingly risky business, with fewer takers. Commercial investment houses, such as Blackrock and Credit Agricole, are asking companies to change their business models.

The right decisions can put countries on a much safer and healthier footing.

I have asked all countries to consider six climate-positive actions as they rescue, rebuild and reset their economies:

  1. We need to make our societies more resilient;
  2. We need green jobs and sustainable growth;
  3. Bailout support to sectors such as industry, aviation and shipping should be conditioned on alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement;
  4. We need to stop wasting money on fossil fuel subsidies and place a price on carbon;
  5. We need to consider climate risk in our decision making. Every financial decision must take account of environmental and social impacts. This is more important than ever in the coming months as companies, investors and countries make big financial decisions about the future; and
  6. We need investors to demand that companies reveal transition plans to reach net zero emissions.

Overall, we need to work together. The seeds of change are there. Renewable energy is the only energy source expected to grow in 2020.

Solar auctions have seen popularity rise amidst the height of the pandemic. India serves as a good example.

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.

Nations must commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 and submit more ambitious national climate plans before COP-26 next year.

Let us embrace the vast opportunity of a clean energy future. This is in everyone’s interest. DM

Absa OBP

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