IEA: ‘Green’ coronavirus recovery would keep global emissions below 2019 peak

The world has a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to pour investment into clean energy and create millions of new jobs, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Its “sustainable recovery plan” for the coronavirus pandemic lays out a series of measures that the agency says would ensure 2019 was the “definitive peak” for global emissions.

Launched in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the new report presents a strategy for economic growth that includes mass home renovations, fossil-fuel subsidy reforms, renewables and the expansion of power grids.

The plan puts the emphasis firmly on expanding existing technologies and approaches. It cautions against complex, novel infrastructure projects, but says emerging technologies such as batteries and clean hydrogen are “ready to scale up”.

Energy-sector greenhouse gas emissions would be 4.3bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) lower in 2023 compared to a scenario with no stimulus if the strategy is implemented, according to the IEA. This is more than the annual output from the entire EU.

Unlike the global financial crisis, which saw emissions “ bounce back ” to previous levels, the IEA says the unprecedented drop expected this year provides “a base from which to put emissions into structural decline” and on the path to the Paris Agreement goals .

The IEA’s plan
Emissions impact


The IEA’s plan

The IEA’s plan arrives against a backdrop of significant spending by governments to save industries and livelihoods affected by the pandemic. The agency estimates these measures already total $9tn, although other estimates have placed this figure as high as $15tn.

While the focus so far has been emergency relief, attention is now turning to longer term plans and many leaders and leading economists have suggested a “green recovery” is the best way to revitalise economies.

Carbon Brief recently launched an interactive tracker to record the ‘green’ stimulus packages that have been proposed so far – and this will be updated as more are revealed.

In its strategy, the IEA explores how such green stimulus spending could create energy-related jobs, boost economic growth, improve sustainability and build resilience to future shocks, laying out specific measures to implement between 2021 and 2023.

Coronavirus has hit the energy sector hard, with overall investment expected to drop by a fifth and jobs in the fossil-fuel, bioenergy and vehicle-manufacturing sectors most at risk, as the chart below shows. 

Energy sector jobs at risk following the coronavirus pandemic (green bars) and share of total sector employment at risk (yellow dots). Source: IEA. However, the IEA estimates that with global annual...