Recovery: green or fossil fuel?

Submitted by AWL on 24 June, 2020 - 7:59 Author: Zack Muddle

Governments "have a unique opportunity today to boost economic growth, create millions of new jobs and put global greenhouse gas emissions into structural decline", so claims the Sustainable Recovery Plan (SRP), released on 18 June by the International Energy Agency and the International Monetary Fund.

Recognising that current decisions about investments and recovery will "shape economic and energy infrastructure for decades to come", the plan outlines possible "actions" over the next three years across "electricity, transport, industry, buildings, fuels and emerging low-carbon technologies" to boost economic growth, create jobs and build cleaner, more resilient energy systems."

It would reduce air pollution emissions by 5%, extend clean-cooking to around 420 million peoples, and give nearly 270 million people access to electricity.

Recovery from the 2008-9 economic crises saw the world's largest ever increase in emissions: 1.7 Gt CO₂ in 2010 (rebounding after a decrease of 0.4 Gt CO₂ in 2009). The plan aims to sketch a first step in making "2019 the definitive peak in global emissions", and towards the Paris agreement's goals.

The cost, they model, would be $1tn per year over those three years, 0.7% of global GDP, from both state and corporate spending, through government investments and policies.

SRP is limited in many ways, from the relative investment given to electric private vehicles and biofuels compared to rail or infrastructure to support cycling, to the net investment and the speed of the ambitions. If implemented, it would likely not live up to its environmental aspirations until 2023, let alone laying the ground for fast enough reductions after.

Nonetheless, it would be much better than the trajectory the global economy is currently on.

The lion's share of rescue packages are going into propping up the fossil fuel economy. The wealth and power of the fossil fuel industry remain intact.

It is not at all clear that, once implemented, the SRP would clear the way of future obstacles sufficiently to put the fossil fuel industry — or emissions — into "structural decline".

For fossil fuel subsidies — around $320bn in 2019 — the direction of travel if anything seems to be in the wrong direction, SRP recognises. Despite many current opportunities to axe them, "there are few signs" of acceleration of such efforts — if anything the opposite.

Tellingly, too, "[s]ome governments have seen an opportunity in the recent low market prices to boost strategic oil reserves, with longer term benefits for global energy security, or to take other actions."

Forcing a "green recovery" is possible. It is very far from inevitable. The labour movement must organise and fight to make it happen.

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