(Repeats item issued earlier. The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)
By Clyde Russell
LAUNCESTON, Australia, June 18 (Reuters) – The International Energy Agency (IEA) has laid out a compelling path on how governments can use the recovery from the novel coronavirus recession to switch to renewable energies and help meet global climate change goals.
The trick is going to be getting Asian countries to follow the road map.
The IEA outlined how countries could accelerate the deployment of low-carbon electricity such as solar and wind, increase the use of cleaner transport options and improve energy efficiency in the Sustainable Recovery report, published on Thursday.
The report doesn’t aim to be prescriptive, rather it hopes to show what is possible. The conclusion is that the switch is cost-effective and the benefits substantial.
Global growth could be boosted by 1.1 percentage points for 2021-23 for an investment of about $1 trillion annually, creating nine million jobs and providing 270 million people with electricity in low-income countries, the IEA said.
If the IEA’s plans were implemented, greenhouse gas emissions would be 4.5 billion tonnes lower in 2023 than they would have been, making 2019 the “definitive” peak year for global emissions, the report said.
The key word in the above paragraph is “if” and the further into the report one delves, the more apparent it becomes that Asia is the key to any success.
The report points out the novel coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout from measures taken to combat its spread have hit coal- and natural gas-fired power generation hard, with coal generation set to drop 10% in 2020 and natural gas by 7% from 2019 levels.
However, the IEA also notes that 130 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power is still under construction worldwide, and some 500 GW is in the planning phase, dominated by 180 GW in China, 100 GW in India and 95 GW in Southeast Asia.
While some of these power plants will be cancelled as coal struggles to generate financing and to compete with cheaper renewables, the report underlines that there still has to be a major mindset shift among Asia’s politicians, and in some countries, business leaders.
India is often held up as an example of a country that is rapidly switching to renewables, and the increase in market share has been impressive in recent years.
However, India is the world’s second-biggest coal consumer and importer and it would be naive to expect any Indian prime minister to walk away from an industry that provides substantial employment in both mining and transportation.
China also has a huge domestic industry to protect, and not just in mining and transportation, but also in manufacturing of power plant equipment.
Many of the coal-fired power projects under construction or development across Asia are being financed and equipped by China, often as part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.
Again, expecting China to simply walk away from what it sees as a vital industry now, and for the foreseeable future, is unrealistic.
FOSSIL FUELS ENTRENCHED
The same story applies to major coal exporters Indonesia and Australia, where politicians are often more focused on jobs in the fossil fuel industry, as opposed to the climate implications of continuing to promote the use of polluting sources of energy.
Even delivering reasoned, fact-driven arguments that show investing in renewables delivers more jobs, cheaper electricity and a climate dividend to boot is a hard task, as witnessed by Australia.
The conservative Liberal National coalition of Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes no secret of its preference for fossil fuels, and its hand-picked advisory group on recovering from the coronavirus is stacked with members with ties to the fossil fuel industry.
While the group has yet to deliver a public report, Australian media outlets have reported that they favour a natural gas-led recovery, even though this is unlikely to prove as cost-effective as pushing renewables given Australia’s natural gas resources are costly to develop and distant from the major consuming centres in the country’s southeast.
The IEA is not alone in recommending a switch to renewables, with independent consultants also joining the push.
A report last month by McKinsey & Co found that every $10 million of government spending could create 75 jobs in renewable technologies, or 77 in energy efficiency measures, but just 27 in fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.
Finding any credible support for fossil fuels outside of the industry or its lobbyists is becoming increasingly challenging.
But despite the weight of evidence falling on the side of switching to renewables, the one advantage fuels like coal and natural gas have is that they are well-entrenched in Asian economies, and so far still have the ears of decision makers in governments. (Editing by Richard Pullin)