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We need a total fossil fuel lockdown for a climate revolution

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Growth in renewable power has been impressive over the past five years. But too little is happening in heating, cooling and transport. Overall, global hunger for energy keeps increasing and eats up progress, according to REN21’s Renewables 2020 Global Status Report (GSR), released today. The journey towards climate disaster continues, unless we make an immediate switch to efficient and renewable energy in all sectors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Year after year, we report success after success in the renewable power sector. Indeed, renewable power has made fantastic progress. It beats all other fuels in growth and competitiveness. Many national and global organisations already cry victory. But our report sends a clear warning: The progress in the power sector is only a small part of the picture. And it is eaten up as the world’s energy hunger continues to increase. If we do not change the entire energy system, we are deluding ourselves,” says Rana Adib, REN21’s Executive Director.

The report shows that in the heating, cooling and transport sectors, the barriers are still nearly the same as 10 years ago. “We must also stop heating our homes and driving our cars with fossil fuels,” Adib claims.

There is no real disruption in the COVID-19 pandemic

In the wake of the extraordinary economic decline due to COVID-19, the IEA predicts energy-related CO2 emissions are expected to fall by up to 8% in 2020. But 2019 emissions were the highest ever, and the relief is only temporary. Meeting the Paris targets would require an annual decrease of at least 7.6% to be maintained over the next 10 years. Says Adib: “Even if the lock-downs were to continue for a decade, the change would not be sufficient. At the current pace, with the current system and current market rules, it would take the world forever to come anywhere near a no-carbon system.” 

“Many recovery packages lock us into a dirty fossil fuel economy”

Recovery packages offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make the shift to a low-carbon economy. But according to Adib there is a great risk for this enormous chance to be lost. “Many of these packages include ideas that will instead lock us further into a dirty fossil fuel system. Some directly promote natural gas, coal or oil. Others, though claiming a green focus, build the roof and forget the foundation,” she says. “Take electric cars and hydrogen, for example. These technologies are only green if powered by renewables.”

Choosing an energy system that supports job creation and social justice

The report points out that “green” recovery measures, such as investment in renewables and building efficiency, are more cost-effective than traditional stimulus measures and yield more returns. It also documents that renewables deliver on job creation, energy sovereignty, accelerated energy access in developing countries, reduced emissions and air pollution.

“Renewables are now more cost-effective than ever, providing an opportunity to prioritize clean economic recovery packages and bring the world closer to meeting the Paris Agreement Goals. Renewables are a key pillar of a healthy, safe and green COVID-19 recovery that leaves no one behind,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “By putting energy transition at the core of economic recovery, countries can reap multiple benefits, from improved air quality to employment generation.”

This contrasts with the true cost of fossil fuels, estimated to be USD 5.2 trillion if costs of negative impacts such as air pollution, effects of climate change, and traffic congestion are counted.

Renewable energy systems support energy sovereignty and democracy, empowering citizens and communities, instead of big fossil fuel producers and consumers. “When spending stimulus money, we have to decide: Do we want an energy system that serves some or a system that serves many?”, says Adib. “But it’s not only about money. We must end any kind of support to the fossil economy, particularly when it comes to heating, cooling and transport. Governments need to radically change the market conditions and rules and demonstrate the same leadership as during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The report finds:

  • Total final energy demand continues to be on the rise (1.4% annually from 2013 to 2018). Despite significant progress in renewable power generation, the share of renewables in total final energy demand barely increased (9.6% in 2013 to 11% in 2018). Compared to the power sector, the heating, cooling and transport sectors lag far behind (renewable energy share in power, 26%, heating and cooling, 10%, transport, 3%).
  • Today’s progress is largely the result of policies and regulations initiated years ago and focus on the power sector. Major barriers seen in heating, cooling and transport are still almost the same a decade on. Policies are needed to create the right market conditions.
  • The renewable energy sector employed around 11 million people worldwide in 2018
  • In 2019, the private sector signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) for a record growth of over 43% from 2018 to 2019 in new renewable power capacity.
  • The global climate strikes have reached unprecedented levels with millions of people across 150 countries. They have pushed governments to step up climate ambitions.  As of April 2020, 1490 jurisdictions – spanning 29 countries and covering 822 million citizens – had issued “climate emergency” declarations, many of which include plans and targets for more renewable-based energy systems.
  • While some countries are phasing out coal, others continued to invest in new coal-fired power plants. In addition, funding from private banks for fossil fuel projects has increased each year since the signing of the Paris Agreement, totaling USD 2.7 trillion over the last three years.  

“It is clear, renewable power has become mainstream and that is great to see. But the progress in this one sector should not lead us to believe that renewables are a guaranteed success. Governments need to take action beyond economic recovery packages.  They also need to create the rules and the environment to switch to an efficient and renewables-based energy system. Globally. Now.” concludes Arthouros Zervos, President of REN21.

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‘Industry 4.0’ tech for post-COVID world, is driving inequality

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Developing countries must embrace ground-breaking technologies that have been a critical tool in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, or else face even greater inequalities than before, UN economic development  experts at UNCTAD said on Thursday.

“Very few countries create the technologies that drive this revolution – most of them are created in China and the US – but all countries will be affected by it”, said UNCTAD’s Shamika Sirimanne, head of Division on Technology and Logistics. “Almost none of the developing countries we studied is prepared for the consequences.”

The appeal, which is highlighted in a new UNCTAD report, relates to all things digital and connective, so-called “Industry 4.0” or “frontier technologies”, that include artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, nanotechnology and solar energy.

Gene editing, another fast-evolving sector, has demonstrated its worth in the last year, with the accelerated development of new coronavirus vaccines.

Drone aid

In developing countries, digital tools can be used to monitor ground water contamination, deliver medical supplies to remote communities via drones, or track diseases using big data, said UNCTAD’s Sirimanne.

But “most of these examples remain at pilot level, without ever being scaled-up to reach those most in need: the poor. To be successful, technology deployment must fulfil the five As: availability, affordability, awareness, accessibility, and the ability for effective use.”

Income gap widening

With an estimated market value of $350 billion today, the array of emerging digital solutions for life after COVID is likely to be worth over $3 trillion by 2025 – hence the need for developing countries to invest in training and infrastructure to be part of it, Sirimanne maintained.

“Most Industry 4.0 technologies that are being deployed in developed countries save labour in routine tasks affecting mid-level skill jobs. They reward digital skills and capital”, she said, pointing to the significant increase in the market value of the world’s leading digital platforms during the pandemic.

Innovation dividends

“The largest gains have been made by Amazon, Apple and Tencent,” Sirimanne continued. “This is not surprising given that a very small number of very large firms provided most of the digital solutions that we have used to cope with various lockdowns and travel restrictions.”

Expressing optimism about the potential for developing countries to be carried along with the new wave of digitalisation rather than be swamped by it, the UNCTAD economist downplayed concerns that increasing workforce automation risked putting people in poorer countries out of a job.

This is because “not all tasks in a job are automated, and, most importantly, that new products, tasks, professions, and economic activities are created throughout the economy”, Sirimanne said.

‘Job polarization’

“The low wages …for skills in developing countries plus the demographic trends will not create economic incentives to replace labour in manufacturing – not yet.”

According to UNCTAD, over the past two decades, the expansion in high and low-wage jobs – a phenomenon known as “job polarization” – has led to only a single-digit reduction in medium-skilled jobs in developed and developing countries (of four and six per cent respectively).

“So, it is expected that low and lower-middle income developing countries will be less exposed to potential negative effects of AI and robots on job polarization”, Sirimanne explained.

Nonetheless, the UN trade and development body cautioned that there appeared to be little sign of galloping inequality slowing down in the new digital age, pointing to data indicating that the income gap between developed and developing countries is $40,749 in real terms today, up from $17,000 in 1970.

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Greater Innovation Critical to Driving Sustained Economic Recovery in East Asia

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Innovation is critical to productivity growth and economic progress in developing East Asia in a rapidly changing world, according to a new World Bank report launched today.

Countries in developing East Asia have an impressive record of sustained growth and poverty reduction.  But slowing productivity growth, uncertainties in global trade, and technological advances are increasing the need to transition to new and better modes of production to sustain economic performance.

To support policy makers in meeting this challenge, The Innovation Imperative for Developing East Asia examines the state of innovation in the region, analyzes the key constraints firms face in innovating, and lays out an agenda for action to spur innovation-led growth.

A large body of evidence links innovation to higher productivity,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific. “The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, along with the fast-evolving global environment, have raised urgency for governments in the region to promote greater innovation through better policies.

While developing East Asia is home to several high-profile innovators, data presented in the report show that most countries in the region (except China) innovate less than would be expected given their per capita income levels. Most firms operate far from the technological frontier. And the region is falling behind the advanced economies in the breadth and intensity of new technology use.

“Aside from some noteworthy examples, the vast majority of firms in developing East Asia are currently not innovating,” said Xavier Cirera, a lead author of the report. “A broad-based model of innovation is thus needed – that supports a large mass of firms in adopting new technologies, while also enabling more-sophisticated firms to undertake projects at the cutting edge.”

The report identifies several factors that impede innovation in the region, including inadequate information on new technologies, uncertainty about returns to innovation projects, weak firm capabilities, insufficient staff skills, and limited financing options. Moreover, countries’ innovation policies and institutions are often not aligned with firms’ capabilities and needs.

To spur innovation, the report argues that countries need to reorient policy to promote diffusion of existing technologies, not just invention; support innovation in the services sectors, not just manufacturing; and strengthen firms’ innovation capabilities. Taking this broader view of innovation policy will be critical to enabling productivity gains among a broader swath of firms in the region.

“It is important for governments in the region to support innovation in services, given their rising importance in these economies – not only for better service quality but increasingly as key inputs for manufacturing,” said Andrew Mason, also a lead author of the report.

Countries also need to strengthen key complementary factors for innovation, including workers’ skills and instruments to finance innovation projects. Building stronger links between national research institutions and firms will also be critical to fostering innovation-led growth in the region.

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Reports

Sea transport is primary route for counterfeiters

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More than half of the total value of counterfeit goods seized around the world are shipped by sea, according to a new OECD-EUIPO report.

Misuse of Containerized Maritime Shipping In the Global Trade of Counterfeits says that seaborne transport accounts for more than 80% of the volume of merchandise traded between countries, and more than 70% of the total value of trade.

Containerships carried 56% of the total value of seized counterfeits in 2016. The People’s Republic of China was the largest provenance economy for container shipments, making up 79% of the total value of maritime containers containing fakes and seized worldwide. India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are also among the top provenance economies for counterfeit and pirated goods traded worldwide.

Between 2014 and 2016, 82% of the seized value of counterfeit perfumes and cosmetics by customs authorities worldwide, 81% of the value of fake footwear and 73% of the value of customs seizures of fake foodstuff and toys and games concerned sea shipments. Additional analysis showed that over half of containers transported in 2016 by ships from economies known to be major sources of counterfeits entered the European Union through Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. There are also some EU countries, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Romania, with relatively low volumes of containers trade in general, but with a high level of imports from counterfeiting-intense economies.

To combat illicit trade, a number of risk-assessment and targeting methods have been adapted for containerised shipping, in particular to enforce against illicit trade in narcotics and hazardous and prohibited goods. But the analysis reveals that the illicit trade in counterfeits has not been a high priority for enforcement, as shipments of counterfeits are commonly perceived as “commercial trade infractions” rather than criminal activity. Consequently, existing enforcement efforts may not be adequately tailored to respond to this risk, according to the report.  Tailored and flexible governance solutions are required to strengthen risk-assessment and targeting methods against counterfeits.

As well as infringing trademarks and copyright, counterfeit and pirated goods entail health and safety risks, product malfunctions and loss of income for companies and governments. Earlier OECD-EUIPO work has shown that imports of counterfeit and pirated goods amounted to up to USD 509 billion in 2016, or around 3.3% of global trade.

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