While virus freezes provided thunderstorm blue skies from Delhi to Beijing and beyond, as China and India prepare to revive their economies, experts warn that doing so without regard for the environment could undo their previous good job. on the climate.
Now climate experts are asking countries to use this recovery period to implement policies that reduce emissions and invest in renewable energy and climate-resistant infrastructure. This, they say, will create jobs, improve the long-term economy and, above all, save lives.
For Joseph Stiglitz, Pulitzer Prize winner, and a group of prominent economists, this is a decisive moment.
Building ecological and climate-resistant infrastructures
Before the virus hit, India had clear targets on climate change.
He had pledged to have 40% of its electricity production was supplied by non-fossil fuels by 2030 and had since increased its target of renewable energy capacity to 450 gigawatts.
“Before the pandemic hit, predictions were that India would exceed its targets,” said Aparna Roy, associate associate and conductor for climate change and energy at the Center for New Economic Diplomacy (CNED).
To ease the economic pain, the Indian government unveiled a $ 266 billion economic package last week to build a “self-sufficient India”, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and will help micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.
The details of that package are still in the implementation phase, but government support for energy efficiency updates for businesses and targets for decarbonisation as conditions on funds could go a long way, experts say.
“Fossil fuel industries, in the face of extraordinarily low oil prices, are likely to require future tax breaks or bailouts,” write economists in the University of Oxford study. “Although there may be good reasons for such support, such bailouts should be conditional on these industries developing a measurable action plan for the transition to a zero net emissions future.”
Stopping the virus could also affect whether India achieves its renewable energy targets.
The country wants to be a leader in the solar energy sector and aims for 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, most of which comes from solar. But construction of solar projects was halted during the blockade since most of the components needed for these installations come from China, where factories closed during the pandemic.
India also depends on international finance to achieve its climate goals – a vessel that could dry up as developed nations struggle with their own economic difficulties.
“Most developed countries that are already regressing from their commitments, this is an opportunity not to commit additional funding that is urgently needed by developing countries to make the transition,” said Roy.
India’s development depends on ecological policies
The long-term strategy for coronavirus recovery in India could also determine how the country progresses not only with its transition to clean energy, but also with the health and development of its population.
India’s ability to provide sufficient food and energy for its growing population depends on building infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of the climate crisis, have a sustainable agricultural sector and switch to renewable energy.
“The Covid pandemic has actually highlighted how important three things are: food security; access to sustainable, reliable and affordable energy; and the third is critical infrastructure,” said Roy. “Poverty reduction will require India to have energy and food security, while its energy and food security are very vulnerable to climate impact.”
These climatic impacts have already been felt. Deadly waves with temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) are now the norm during the summer. Irregular monsoon rains lead to annual floods that block entire cities and block the region’s vital production. Pollution from factories, crop discharges and fires suffocates the cities of India every year, damaging the health of millions of people.
The construction of roads, buildings and other infrastructure such as transport links will have to expand to keep up with the millions of people moving to the city.
And millions more still have little or no access to electricity and use polluting fuels such as wood or kerosene for cooking and lighting. The challenge for the next decade will be how to rapidly expand access to energy and sustainably develop the agricultural sector – on which hundreds of millions of people in India depend for their livelihood – without increasing emissions and pollution.
Having a coronavirus recovery strategy that builds green infrastructure, reduces emissions and increases renewable energy capacity and production is therefore a great opportunity for India.
“The way India meets its development trajectory and energy transition is very important. India has the opportunity to create the type of model it can export to other developing countries,” said Roy .
Coal is a crucial area for China after Covid
“There will be strong pressure in China to stimulate the economy and keep people busy, and the Chinese coal industry is still a huge employer,” said Joanna Lewis, associate professor of energy and the environment and an expert on clean energy from the China at Georgetown University.
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal and there is evidence that China is easing restrictions on fossil fuels, signaling a possible move to use coal to boost the coronavirus-hit economy in the country.
“Although renewables are technically cheaper at this point, they will have to complete against a coal industry supported by government programs to reduce production, raise prices and secure production contracts,” said Lewis.
“Even before the outbreak, we witnessed a slowdown in commitments to slow coal growth, with growing demand in 2019 after years of slowing growth,” said Lewis.
Eyes will be on China’s largest annual political meeting, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which will begin on May 22 after being delayed due to the virus. The sessions will reveal the main economic objectives and budgets and measures to revive the economy after the coronavirus will be center stage.
Observers will be thrilled to see how much climate policy will be on the agenda.
Lewis said a green economic package would be “a huge opportunity to take advantage of the past decade of progress in promoting innovation and the spread of clean energy and ensuring that the low carbon transition can continue”.
Importantly, China is developing its fourteenth five-year plan: a roadmap for the country’s goals and a key indicator of how much clean energy and sustainable development will be at the heart of the next five years. Since China is the world’s top polluter, the document’s climate policy is extremely important.
“The technologies China should invest in are different from what they had a decade ago,” said Lewis. “Instead of investing in wind power technology, for example, more investment in battery technology would not only allow further deployment of electric vehicles (electric vehicles), but it can help balance a network that is increasingly relying on renewable energy.”
At the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 26) – postponed to next year due to the virus – China and India are expected to update their climate commitments, together with other countries. What they do during this recovery period will have consequences for global climate action.
Lewis said that coordination between China and the United States – the second largest polluter in the world – should be a “crucial element of the US-China commitment to the future”.
Without it, he said: “We risk taking precious global actions during this next decade, which is undoubtedly the decisive decade for climate change.”
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