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How the response to the Covid crisis can reshape the future of energy

MD Staff

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It has been a tumultuous year for the global energy system. The Covid-19 crisis has caused more disruption than any other event in recent history, leaving scars that will last for years to come. But whether this upheaval ultimately helps or hinders efforts to accelerate clean energy transitions and reach international energy and climate goals will depend on how governments respond to today’s challenges.

The World Energy Outlook 2020, the International Energy Agency’s flagship publication, focuses on the pivotal period of the next 10 years, exploring different pathways out of the crisis. The new report provides the latest IEA analysis of the pandemic’s impact: global energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, energy-related CO2 emissions by 7%, and energy investment by 18%. The WEO’s established approach – comparing different scenarios that show how the energy sector could develop – is more valuable than ever in these uncertain times. The four pathways presented in this WEO are described in more detail at the end of this press release.

In the Stated Policies Scenario, which reflects today’s announced policy intentions and targets, global energy demand rebounds to its pre-crisis level in early 2023. However, this does not happen until 2025 in the event of a prolonged pandemic and deeper slump, as shown in the Delayed Recovery Scenario. Slower demand growth lowers the outlook for oil and gas prices compared with pre-crisis trends. But large falls in investment increase the risk of future market volatility.

Renewables take starring roles in all our scenarios, with solar centre stage. Supportive policies and maturing technologies are enabling very cheap access to capital in leading markets. Solar PV is now consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen. In the Stated Policies Scenario, renewables meet 80% of global electricity demand growth over the next decade. Hydropower remains the largest renewable source, but solar is the main source of growth, followed by onshore and offshore wind.

“I see solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets. Based on today’s policy settings, it is on track to set new records for deployment every year after 2022,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “If governments and investors step up their clean energy efforts in line with our Sustainable Development Scenario, the growth of both solar and wind would be even more spectacular – and hugely encouraging for overcoming the world’s climate challenge.”

The WEO-2020 shows that strong growth of renewables needs to be paired with robust investment in electricity grids. Without enough investment, grids will prove to be a weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply.

Fossil fuels face varying challenges. Coal demand does not return to pre-crisis levels in the Stated Policies Scenario, with its share in the 2040 energy mix falling below 20% for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. But demand for natural gas grows significantly, mainly in Asia, while oil remains vulnerable to the major economic uncertainties resulting from the pandemic.

“The era of global oil demand growth will come to an end in the next decade,” Dr Birol said. “But without a large shift in government policies, there is no sign of a rapid decline. Based on today’s policy settings, a global economic rebound would soon push oil demand back to pre-crisis levels.”

The worst effects of the crisis are felt among the most vulnerable. The pandemic has reversed several years of declines in the number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa without access to electricity. And a rise in poverty levels may have made basic electricity services unaffordable for more than 100 million people worldwide who had electricity connections.

Global emissions are set to bounce back more slowly than after the financial crisis of 2008-2009, but the world is still a long way from a sustainable recovery. A step-change in clean energy investment offers a way to boost economic growth, create jobs and reduce emissions. This approach has not yet featured prominently in plans proposed to date, except in the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Korea, New Zealand and a handful of other countries.

In the Sustainable Development Scenario, which shows how to put the world on track to achieving sustainable energy objectives in full, the complete implementation of the IEA Sustainable Recovery Plan moves the global energy economy onto a different post-crisis path. As well as rapid growth of solar, wind and energy efficiency technologies, the next 10 years would see a major scaling up of hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage, and new momentum behind nuclear power.

“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline. The economic downturn has temporarily suppressed emissions, but low economic growth is not a low-emissions strategy – it is a strategy that would only serve to further impoverish the world’s most vulnerable populations,” said Dr Birol. “Only faster structural changes to the way we produce and consume energy can break the emissions trend for good. Governments have the capacity and the responsibility to take decisive actions to accelerate clean energy transitions and put the world on a path to reaching our climate goals, including net-zero emissions.”

A significant part of those efforts would have to focus on reducing emissions from existing energy infrastructure – such as coal plants, steel mills and cement factories. Otherwise, international climate goals will be pushed out of reach, regardless of actions in other areas. Detailed new analysis in the WEO-2020 shows that if today’s energy infrastructure continues to operate in the same way as it has done so far, it would already lock in a temperature rise of 1.65 °C.

Despite such major challenges, the vision of a net-zero emissions world is increasingly coming into focus. The ambitious pathway mapped out in the Sustainable Development Scenario relies on countries and companies hitting their announced net-zero emissions targets on time and in full, bringing the entire world to net zero by 2070.

Reaching that point two decades earlier, as in the new Net Zero Emissions by 2050 case, would demand a set of dramatic additional actions over the next 10 years. Bringing about a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 requires, for example, that low-emissions sources provide nearly 75% of global electricity generation in 2030, up from less than 40% in 2019 – and that more than 50% of passenger cars sold worldwide in 2030 are electric, up from 2.5% in 2019. Electrification, innovation, behaviour changes and massive efficiency gains would all play roles. No part of the energy economy could lag behind, as it is unlikely that another would be able to move fast enough to make up the difference.

The different pathways in the WEO-2020

The Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), in which Covid-19 is gradually brought under control in 2021 and the global economy returns to pre-crisis levels the same year. This scenario reflects all of today’s announced policy intentions and targets, insofar as they are backed up by detailed measures for their realisation.

The Delayed Recovery Scenario (DRS) is designed with the same policy assumptions as in the STEPS, but a prolonged pandemic causes lasting damage to economic prospects. The global economy returns to its pre-crisis size only in 2023, and the pandemic ushers in a decade with the lowest rate of energy demand growth since the 1930s.

In the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), a surge in clean energy policies and investment puts the energy system on track to achieve sustainable energy objectives in full, including the Paris Agreement, energy access and air quality goals. The assumptions on public health and the economy are the same as in the STEPS.

The new Net Zero Emissions by 2050 case (NZE2050) extends the SDS analysis. A rising number of countries and companies are targeting net-zero emissions, typically by mid-century. All of these are achieved in the SDS, putting global emissions on track for net zero by 2070. The NZE2050 includes the first detailed IEA modelling of what would be needed in the next ten years to put global CO2 emissions on track for net zero by 2050.

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Half of Working Adults Fear for Their Jobs

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In a new World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey of more than 12,000 working adults in 27 countries, more than half (54%) say they are concerned about losing their jobs in the next 12 months. Perceived job insecurity varies widely across countries: it is stated by three in four workers in Russia, compared to just one in four in Germany.

Two thirds of workers worldwide say they can learn skills needed for the jobs of the future through their current employer. Nearly nine in ten workers in Spain think they can gain essential new skills on the job, whereas fewer than half in Japan, Sweden and Russia.

Concern about job losses

On average, 54% of employed adults from 27 countries say they are concerned about losing their job in the next 12 months (17% are very concerned and 37% somewhat concerned). The prevalence of job-loss concern in the next year ranges from 75% in Russia, 73% in Spain, and 71% in Malaysia, to just 26% in Germany, 30% in Sweden, and 36% in the Netherlands and the United States.

Ability to acquire new skills

Globally, 67% of employed adults surveyed say they can learn and develop skills needed for the jobs of the future through their current employer (23% are very much able to do so, 44% somewhat able). Across the 27 countries, perceived ability to learn and develop those skills on the job is most widespread in Spain (86%), Peru (84%), and Mexico (83%) and least common in Japan (45%), Sweden (46%), and Russia (48%).

Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum said, “The current crisis means that the job creation rate has gone significantly down compared to two years ago, but there is an optimistic scenario overall compared to the rate of job destruction. Of course, it depends on the choices we make today. It depends on the kinds of investments governments make today – and the investments workers make in terms of their own time. And it depends on the choices that business leaders make when it comes to retaining and protecting jobs versus shorter-term decisions that are more focused on quarterly results.”

New skill acquisition versus job insecurity

Globally, workers are more likely to say they can learn and develop skills needed for the jobs of the future through their current employer (67%) than to express concern about losing their job in the next 12 months (54%), a difference of 13 percentage points.

The countries where those who can gain new skills on the job outnumber those who are concerned about losing their job by the largest margins are the United States and Germany (by 40 points).

In reverse, job loss concern is more prevalent than perceived ability to acquire skills in Russia (by 28 points) and, to a lesser extent in Malaysia, Poland, Japan, Turkey, and South Korea.

World Economic Forum Jobs Reset Summit

Job losses and the skills challenge are two of the issues that will be addressed at the forthcoming Jobs Reset Summit. The summit brings together more than 1200 visionary leaders from business, international organizations, government, civil society, media and the broader public to shape a new agenda for growth, jobs, skills and equity.

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2020 Deloitte-NASCIO Cybersecurity Study Highlights Imperatives for State Governments

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Deloitte and The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) released their 2020 Cybersecurity Study, “States at Risk: The Cybersecurity Imperative in Uncertain Times.” The national study is based on responses from 51 U.S. state and territory enterprise-level chief information security officers (CISOs). This is the 10th year of this study and the sixth iteration, with a record number of state and territory CISO’s participating this year.
The key themes in this year’s study are:

  • COVID-19 has challenged continuity and amplified gaps in budget, talent and threats, and the need for partnerships.
  • Collaboration with local governments and public higher education is critical to managing increasingly complex cyber risk within state borders.
  • CISOs need a centralized structure to position cyber in a way that improves agility, effectiveness and efficiencies.

The report also details focus areas for states during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic has highlighted the resilience of public sector cyber leaders, it has also called attention to long-standing challenges facing state IT and cybersecurity organizations such as securing adequate budgets and talent; and coordinating consistent security implementation across agencies.

These challenges were exacerbated by the abrupt shift to remote work spurred by the pandemic. According to the study:

  • Before the pandemic, 52% of respondents said less than 5% of staff worked remotely.
  • During the pandemic, 35 states have had more than half of employees working remotely; nine states have had more than 90% remote workers.

“The last six months have created new opportunities for cyber threats and amplified existing cybersecurity challenges for state governments,” said Meredith Ward, director of policy and research at NASCIO. “The budget and talent challenges experienced in recent years have only grown, and CISOs are now also faced with an acceleration of strategic initiatives to address threats associated with the pandemic.”

“The pandemic forced state governments to act quickly, not just in terms of public health and safety, but also with regard to cybersecurity,” said Srini Subramanian, principal, Deloitte & Touche LLP, and state and local government advisory leader. “However, continuing challenges with resources beset state CISOs/CIOs. This is evident when comparing the much higher levels of budget that federal agencies and other industries like financial services receive to fight cyber threats.”

State governments’ longstanding need for digital modernization has only been amplified by the pandemic, along with the essential role that cybersecurity needs to play in the discussion. Key takeaways from the 2020 study include:

  • Fewer than 40% of states reported having a dedicated budget line item for cybersecurity.
  • Half of states still allocate less than 3% of their total information technology budget on cybersecurity.
  • CISOs identified financial fraud as three times greater of a threat as they did in 2018.
  • Overall, respondents said they believe the probability of a security breach is higher in the next 12 months, compared to responses to the same question in the 2018 study.
  • Only 27% of states provide cybersecurity training to local governments and public education entities.
  • Only 28% of states reported that they had collaborated extensively with local governments as part of their state’s security program during the past year, with 65% reporting limited collaboration.

The 2020 study also revisits the three “bold plays” of the “2018 Deloitte–NASCIO Cybersecurity Study,” covering funding, innovation and collaboration, to assess progress on these strategic issues. While CISOs have made progress in the intervening years, more is needed.

The study is based on responses from U.S. state and territory enterprise-level CISOs. CISO participants answered 61 questions designed to characterize the enterprise-level strategy, governance and operation of security programs.

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Critical gaps in social protection hampering Asia-Pacific region’s resilience to COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for well-functioning social protection systems in the region as never before. A new UN report released today reveals that despite their rapid socioeconomic ascent, most countries in the Asia-Pacific region have weak social protection systems riddled with gaps.

About half of the region’s population has no social protection coverage, according to the publication The Protection We Want: Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific, jointly produced by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and International Labour Organization (ILO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Only a handful of countries have comprehensive social protection systems with relatively broad coverage.

“Comprehensive social protection creates the foundation for healthy societies and vibrant economies. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this imperative into sharp focus, by demonstrating the stabilizing effect well-functioning social protection systems have and how their absence exacerbates inequality and poverty,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.

She added, “Delivering effective social protection to all people across our region is already shaping our approach, as we advocate combining short-term relief with longer-term strategies to build back better in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

The scope and scale of existing programs is still limited. Most poverty-targeted schemes are failing to reach the poorest families and the pandemic risks further reversing progress to eradicate poverty by almost a decade. Many countries are also facing high levels of inequality, both in outcomes and opportunities, which the pandemic has exacerbated. Population ageing, migration, urbanization, natural disasters and climate change, as well as technological advancements are further compounding these challenges.

The report identifies significant underinvestment as one of the main factors for the huge coverage gap. Excluding health, many countries in the region spend less than 2 per cent of GDP on social protection. This low level of investment in people stands in stark contrast to the global average of 11 per cent. Another key reason is the high prevalence of informal employment in the region, representing close to 70 per cent of all workers.

“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the precarious situation of many working women and men and especially those in the informal economy. There is a clear need for further investment in public social protection systems if we are to avoid the stagnation of social and economic progress made across the region in recent decades,” said Ms Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, Regional Director ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

Expanding social protection would have an immediate impact on reducing poverty, inequality and purchasing power disparities. For example, the proportion of households living in poverty would fall by up to 18 percentage points if governments were to offer basic child benefits, disability benefits and old-age pensions.

While the required investment of two to six per cent of GDP is significant, the report demonstrates that it is within the grasp of most countries. The report recommends governments to reprioritize existing resources, boost public revenues, tap into new technologies and embed social protection into national development strategies, underpinned by social dialogue.

The report was launched on the sidelines of the fifth Regional Conversation Series on Building Back Better. The high-level dialogue on “Social Protection: A Right for All, or A Privilege for a Few?” featured eminent personalities from across the region including Guy Ryder, ILO Director General; Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Fiji; Haiyani Rumondang, Director General for Industrial Relations and Worker’s Social Security, Ministry of Manpower; Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety to the Prime Minister, Pakistan; Kung Phoak, Deputy Secretary-General for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community; Sarah Cook, Director, Institute for Global Development, University of New South Wales; and Michael Cichon, Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Governance at UNU, Maastricht.

Read the full report: http://bit.ly/APSocialOutlook2020 

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