Photo: Illustration; Source: Shell

G20 governments firmly behind fossil fuels with $151 billion in COVID-19 recovery policies

A total commitment of at least $151 billion from G20 governments in support of fossil fuels has been made available in their energy recovery policies, data from the Energy Policy Tracker shows.

Of them, only 20 per cent make financial support conditional on green requirements, such as setting climate targets or implementing pollution reduction plans.

At the same time, $89 billion has been committed to clean energy but 81 per cent of this support is unspecific about the appropriate environmental safeguards.

The Energy Policy Tracker, a website tracking climate- and energy-related recovery policies, provides weekly information about public funding commitments and other government policies related to the production and consumption of energy in the G20 countries since the beginning of the pandemic.

While green recovery rhetoric is getting louder in the policy space, this data shows that – in reality – fossil fuel producers and high-carbon sectors are currently receiving 70 per cent more recovery aid than the clean energy.

Ivetta Gerasimchuk; Source: IISD
Ivetta Gerasimchuk; Source: IISD

Ivetta Gerasimchuk, an IISD expert and the Energy Policy Tracker project lead, said: “The COVID-19 crisis and governments’ responses to it are intensifying the trends that existed before the pandemic struck

National and subnational jurisdictions that heavily subsidized the production and consumption of fossil fuels in previous years have once again thrown lifelines to oil, gas, coal, and fossil fuel-powered electricity.

Meanwhile, economies that had already begun a transition to clean energy are now using stimulus and recovery packages to make this happen even faster”.

The data from the Energy Policy Tracker registered over 200 individual policies from G20 countries, combining the amounts committed through each policy to generate total aggregate figures.

To provide a detailed, real-world picture of the current state of support for different energy types, the data for both fossil fuels and clean energy is split into sub-categories—unconditional and conditional. These categories provided a more nuanced picture on the different levels of government support for a green recovery from the pandemic.

Angela Picciariello, senior research officer at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), stated: “Despite the great number of clean policies being approved by governments in recent months, the tracking system shows how the fossil fuel industry has continued to aggressively lobby policy-makers.

This has resulted in some so-called conditional fossil fuel policies that nevertheless lock in dangerous emissions for decades to come.

Nor is it always easy to distinguish clean from fossil fuel policies—the tracking system is important to identify the policies causing the greatest, and often hidden, environmental damage”.

It is worth noting that G20 countries are responsible for around 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and account for 85 per cent of global GDP.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development claimed that, with G20 governments committed to injecting over $8 trillion into the global economy, decisions made today about how these funds “will be distributed will lock in the world’s environmental footprint for decades to come”.

Alex Doukas, a program director at OCI, added: “Under the guise of COVID-19 recovery spending, governments are pouring huge volumes of public money into the struggling fossil fuel industry, wasting an opportunity to fight the climate crisis while enriching big polluters.

Recovery spending must dramatically change course to support clean energy as an investment in the future, instead of subsidizing the polluters of the past. Fossil fuels were a bad investment even before the pandemic began“.

Tom Moerenhout, a professor at Columbia University believes that if we miss this opportunity and embark on another fossil fuel-powered economic recovery—as was the case in 2008—then it would not be likely but certain that the planet’s already high fever would “turn into heatstroke”.

According to the Energy Policy Tracker’s data released on Tuesday, committed support for clean energy amounted so far to $89 billion, but only $16 billion has been committed to support unconditionally clean energy such as solar or wind.

Some countries, such as China, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, and the UK have approved green recovery policies that will provide lasting green jobs.

Today, governments are doubling down on fossil fuels as they grapple with the pandemic and plan their recoveries, but there is still time to build back better”, says Elisa Arond, a research fellow at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). “Policy-makers and civil society organizations can use the evolving data in this Energy Policy Tracker to help push new recovery policies—and energy policies more broadly—in that direction”.

Antonio Guterres; Source: UN G20
Antonio Guterres; Source: UN

Worth reminding, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke at the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Clean Energy Transitions Summit earlier this month.

At the meeting, he emphasized that recovery strategies must account for the need to transition to a more sustainable future.

He urged countries to “stop wasting money on fossil fuel subsidies and place a price on carbon” and added that coal should be left out of all COVID-19 recovery plans.

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