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IRENA Outlines Agenda to Put Energy Transformation at Heart of Sustainable Economic Recovery

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Governments can align immediate economic stimulus needs with medium to long-term decarbonisation and sustainable development objectives by targeting policy measures and public spending towards the energy transformation, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published today finds.
 
Post-COVID recovery: An agenda for resilience, development and equality outlines immediate stimulus action for the next three years (2021-2023) as well as measures for a mid-term 2030 recovery perspective over the next decade. It provides practical insights and recommendations for governments as they drive investment and policy actions for post-COVID-19 economies. The report shows that on an annual basis, scaling-up public and private energy spending to USD 4.5 trillion per year would boost the world economy by an additional 1.3%, creating 19 million additional energy transition-related jobs by 2030. Jobs in renewables alone could triple to 30 million by 2030. Every million dollars (USD) invested in renewables would create three times more jobs than in fossil fuels.
           
“Renewables have proven to be the most resilient energy sources throughout the current crisis”, said Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA. “This evidence should allow governments to take immediate investment decisions and policy responses to overcome the crisis. With today’s recovery plan for governments, IRENA uses its global mandate on energy transitions to inform decision-making at this critical time, while staying on course toward a fully decarbonised system by 2050.”
 
Doubling annual transition investments to USD 2 trillion over the next three years will provide an effective stimulus and can leverage private sector investments by a factor 3-4. Reforming fossil fuel prices, retiring fossil fuel assets, driving green financing and bailouts, and strategically investing in energy transition must be immediate priorities, IRENA’s report advises.
 
The annual USD 2 trillion invested would boost GDP by 1% and create additional 5.5 million transition-related jobs in three years. Underpinning labour and industrial policies are required to leverage local capacities and skills and create industries and jobs across the value chain.
 
Any recovery strategy should include innovative solutions and emerging technologies such as green hydrogen with the potential to eventually deliver a net zero energy system. By investing in their commercialisation, governments and businesses can ensure sustained long-term growth.
 
Renewable-based power generation would become the backbone of future energy markets, supported by transition-related industries like battery storage. But renewable heating and cooling must also be scaled up along with energy efficiency. Renewable-based transport can expand with incentives for electric vehicles (EVs) and continued infrastructure investment (including smart grids and EV charging stations), as well as emerging fuel solutions.
 
“Now is the time to invest in a better future”, said La Camera. “Government policies and investment choices can create the necessary momentum to enact systemic change and deliver the energy transformation away from fossil fuels. Driving a structural shift towards cleaner energy systems and more resilient economies and societies is more urgent than ever. Most of all, this is a global agenda, and we must leave no one behind.”
 
Rooted in IRENA’s first Global Renewables Outlook, which shows that transforming the global energy system in line with the Paris Agreement is possible, the new report focuses on how and where investments and policy interventions can accelerate economic recovery while simultaneously steering the way to a decarbonised energy system.

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Global emissions are set to surge to an all-time high

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Governments worldwide are deploying an unprecedented amount of fiscal support aimed at stabilising and rebuilding their economies, but only about 2% of this spending has been allocated to clean energy measures, according to new analysis from the International Energy Agency.

The sums of money, both public and private, being mobilised worldwide by recovery plans fall well short of what is needed to reach international climate goals. These shortfalls are particularly pronounced in emerging and developing economies, many of which face particular financing challenges.

Under governments’ current recovery spending plans, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are set to climb to record levels in 2023 and continue rising in the following years. This would leave the world far from the pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050 that the IEA set out in its recent Global Roadmap to Net Zero.

These findings come from the new Sustainable Recovery Tracker that the IEA launched today to help policy makers assess how far recovery plans are moving the needle on climate. The new online tool is a contribution to the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Environment, Climate and Energy in Naples, which takes place on 22 and 23 July under the Presidency of Italy.

The Tracker monitors government spending allocated to sustainable recoveries and then estimates how much this spending boosts overall clean energy investment and to what degree this affects the trajectory of global CO2 emissions. The Tracker considers over 800 national sustainable recovery policies in its analysis, which are publicly available on the IEA website.

“Since the Covid-19 crisis erupted, many governments may have talked about the importance of building back better for a cleaner future, but many of them are yet to put their money where their mouth is. Despite increased climate ambitions, the amount of economic recovery funds being spent on clean energy is just a small sliver of the total,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.

Governments have mobilised USD 16 trillion in fiscal support throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, most of it focused on emergency financial relief for households and firms. Only 2% of the total is earmarked for clean energy transitions.

In the early phases of the pandemic, the IEA released the Sustainable Recovery Plan, which recommended USD 1 trillion of spending globally on clean energy measures that could feature prominently in recovery plans. According to the Plan – developed in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund – this spending would boost global economic growth, create millions of jobs and put the world on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

According to the Tracker, all the key sectors highlighted in the IEA Sustainable Recovery Plan are receiving inadequate attention from policy makers. Current government plans would only increase total public and private spending on clean energy to around USD 350 billion a year by 2023 – only 35% of what is envisaged in the Plan.

The Tracker shows the stark geographic disparities that are emerging in clean energy investment. The majority of funds are being mobilised in advanced economies, which are nearing 60% of the investment levels envisaged in the Sustainable Recovery Plan. Emerging and developing economies, many of which have limited fiscal leeway, have so far mobilised only about 20% of the recommended spending levels.

“Not only is clean energy investment still far from what’s needed to put the world on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century, it’s not even enough to prevent global emissions from surging to a new record. Many countries – especially those where the needs are greatest – are also missing the benefits that well planned clean energy investment brings, such as stronger economic growth, new jobs and the development of the energy industries of the future,” Dr Birol said

“Governments need to increase spending and policy action rapidly to meet the commitments they made in Paris in 2015 – including the vital provision of financing by advanced economies to the developed world,” Dr Birol added. “But they must then go even further by leading clean energy investment and deployment to much greater heights beyond the recovery period in order to shift the world onto a pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050, which is narrow but still achievable – if we act now.”

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Portugal’s energy policies set a clear pathway towards 2050 carbon neutrality

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Portugal’s equitable and well-balanced plans for reaching a carbon-neutral economy should support the country’s economic growth and energy security, according to a new energy policy review by the International Energy Agency.

Portugal’s energy and climate policies aim to reach carbon neutrality primarily through broad electrification of energy demand and a rapid expansion of renewable electricity generation, along with increased energy efficiency. These measures are backed by a strong focus on reducing dependency on energy imports and maintaining affordable access to energy. In the longer term, Portugal is aiming for hydrogen to play a major role in achieving carbon neutrality.

“Portugal was among the first countries in the world to set a target for carbon neutrality by 2050, and its Roadmap for Carbon Neutrality shows a strong commitment to electrifying its economy and ensuring a secure and affordable energy transition,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director, who is launching the policy review today at an event with João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Portugal’s Minister for the Environment and Climate Action. “The IEA looks forwards to supporting the Portuguese government as it works on a fair and inclusive transition to a carbon-neutral economy.”

Portugal’s climate and energy goals still face notable challenges, the IEA policy review notes, with an economy that remains heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels today. The report welcomes steps the government is taking to address these challenges. An effective auction process for renewable energy projects should result in almost 2 gigawatts of new renewable generation coming online in the next few years, which will triple Portugal’s solar PV capacity.

Portugal is pushing to reduce oil demand and associated emissions through transport decarbonisation, with over EUR 10 billion of investments in electrified rail and public transport, favourable tax treatment for electric vehicles and support for charging infrastructure. Portugal is also taking a major step towards lowering emissions and reducing energy import dependency by phasing out coal-fired electricity generation in 2021.

Portugal sees a key role for hydrogen produced from renewable energy in hard-to-decarbonise sectors and for achieving carbon neutrality. The National Hydrogen Strategy sets a goal for hydrogen produced from renewable energy to cover 1.5-2% of Portugal’s energy demand by 2030, with use in industry, domestic maritime shipping, road transport and for injection into the natural gas network and potential exports.

“I congratulate Portugal for developing a broad policy framework with robust measures to achieve emission reductions,” Dr Birol said. “Portugal has found a good balance of ambitious targets and competitive support measures needed to drive a cost-effective energy transition.”

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EU energy programme with Eastern partner countries extends into second phase

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The European Commission has launched the second phase of its EU4Energy programme, which promotes low-carbon and clean energy transitions in the Eastern Partnership (EaP), a joint initiative involving the European Union, its Members States and six Eastern European Partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

“Promoting the Clean Energy Transition in the Eastern Partnership Countries: EU4Energy Phase II” will run for the next four years and will help develop legislative and regulatory frameworks that support the region’s energy transformation and the liberalisation of its energy markets, as well the digitalisation of its energy systems. Beyond reducing emissions, the programme’s goal is to provide the citizens of the Eastern Partnership Countries with more stable and resilient energy supplies, empowering consumers and increasing energy security.

The International Energy Agency is a partner in the EU4Energy programme along with the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER) and the Energy Community Secretariat (EnCS). The 8 July kick-off conference for the programme’s second phase includes country representatives from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine who will share their knowhow and experience to further enhance cooperation in the energy sector within the region.

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