Why China and India Shouldn’t Let Coronavirus Justify Declining Climate Action

Why China and India Shouldn't Let Coronavirus Justify Declining Climate Action

While virus blockages have provided temporary blue skies from Delhi to Beijing and beyond, as China and India prepare to resuscitate their economies, experts warn that doing so regardless of the environment could do. roll back their previous good work on climate.

Today, climate experts are demanding that countries use this cool-down period to adopt policies that reduce emissions and invest in renewable energy and climate-resilient infrastructure. They say it will create jobs, improve the long-term economy and, most importantly, save lives.

For Joseph Stiglitz, Pulitzer Prize winner, and a group of eminent economists, this is a decisive moment.

“The stimulus packages can either kill these two birds with one stone – putting the world economy on the path to zero net emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be almost impossible to escape”, they wrote earlier this month in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy.

Build a green and climate resilient infrastructure

Before the virus struck, India had clear goals for climate change.

He was committed to 40% of its production of electricity supplied by non-fossil fuels by 2030, and had then increased its objective of renewable energy capacity to 450 gigawatts.

The demand for coal – which generates about 75% of India’s electricity – was down, as renewable energy has become much cheaper, and on the world stage, India had taken the lead in the climate negotiations.

“Before the pandemic hit, forecasts predicted that India would exceed its targets,” said Aparna Roy, partner and co-manager of climate change and energy at the Center for New Economic Diplomacy (CNED).

But blockages of the coronavirus have caused enormous economic disruption to India’s economy. More than 120 million people lost their jobs in April, mostly informal workers and small traders, according to at the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE).

To alleviate the economic pain, the Indian government unveiled last week a $ 266 billion economic package aimed at building an “autonomous India”, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and will help micro, small and medium enterprises.

The details of this package are still being rolled out, but government support for energy efficiency improvements for businesses and decarbonization targets as conditions on the funds could go far, experts say.

“The fossil fuel industries, faced with extremely low oil prices, are likely to ask for future tax breaks or bailouts,” write economists in the Oxford University study. “While there may be good reasons for such support, such bailouts should be conditional on these industries developing a measurable plan of action for the transition to a zero net future.”

Subsidies to fossil fuels in India were already seven times larger than alternative energies, according to a report from two environmental think tanks found in April, highlighting an area where India needs to do better.

The disruption caused by the virus could also have an impact on the achievement of India’s renewable energy targets.

The country wants to be a leader in solar energy and aims for 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, the majority of which will come from solar. But construction of solar projects was halted during the foreclosure, as the majority of the components needed for these facilities come from China, where factories closed during the pandemic.

India also depends on international funding to help it meet its climate targets – a pot that could dry up as developed countries wrestle with their own economic difficulties.

“Most of the developed countries that have already fallen back on their commitments, this is an opportunity not to commit the new funding that is urgently needed by developing countries to make their transition,” said Roy.

India’s development depends on green policies

The long-term recovery strategy for the coronavirus in India could also determine how the country is progressing not only in its transition to clean energy, but also in the health and development of its population.

India’s ability to provide enough food and energy for its growing population depends on building infrastructure that will withstand the impacts of the climate crisis, a sustainable agricultural sector and a transition to renewable energy .

“The Covid pandemic has in fact emphasized the importance of three things: food security; access to sustainable, reliable and affordable energy; and the third is critical infrastructure,” said Roy. “Poverty reduction will require India to have energy and food security, while its energy and food security are very vulnerable to climate impacts.”

These climate impacts are already being felt. Deadly heat waves with temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) are now the norm during the summer. Irregular monsoon rains cause annual floods that shatter entire cities and disrupt vital production in the region. Pollution from factories, exhaust fumes and crop fires suffocates Indian cities every year, damaging the health of millions of people.

Adding to the urgency is that this nation of 1.3 billion people is the world third largest carbon dioxide emitter. And these energy needs are expected to double over the next decade due to the rapid growth of its population and economy.

Construction of roads, buildings and other infrastructure such as transport links will need to expand to keep pace with the millions of people moving to cities.

And millions of others still have little or no access to electricity and use polluting fuels like wood or kerosene for cooking and lighting. The challenge over the next decade will be how to rapidly expand access to energy and sustainably develop the agricultural sector – on which hundreds of millions of people in India depend for their livelihoods – without increasing emissions and pollution.

Having a coronavirus recovery strategy that builds green infrastructure, reduces emissions and increases capacity and production of renewable energy is therefore a huge opportunity for India.

“How India responds to its development path and energy transition is very important. India has the opportunity to create the kind of model that it can export to other developing countries,” said Roy.

Coal is crucial for China after Covid

Before the pandemic, China was on track to meet most of its climate commitments, which included a spike in carbon emissions by 2030 and a 20% share of renewable energy in its demand for primary energy. It has also made great strides in reducing pollution in its cities, with Beijing now out of the top 100 most polluted in the world.
In recent years, China has become the world’s largest developer of renewable energy, and dramatically reduces the price of solar energy.
But Covid-19 reduced the Chinese economy in its worst three month period for decades. Some 80 million Chinese may already be unemployed and experts say it will be a long way to recovery.

“There will be strong pressure in China to stimulate the economy and keep people busy, and the Chinese coal industry remains a huge employer,” said Joanna Lewis, associate professor of energy and environment and energy expert. own in China at Georgetown University.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, and there is evidence that China is easing restrictions on fossil fuels, signaling a possible decision to use coal to boost the economy of the country affected by coronaviruses.

In the first weeks of March, more coal production capacity was authorized for construction in China than during the whole of 2019, according to the Global Energy Monitor.
Building factories could provide an economic boost in the short term. But in the long run, coal is generally not profitable – Carbon Tracker found that 40% of Chinese coal plants are losing money.

“Even if renewables are technically cheaper at this point, they will have to end against a coal industry supported by government programs to cut production, raise prices and secure production contracts,” said Lewis.

He can speak green, but carbon emissions increased in China in recent years as its economy has slowed.

“Even before the outbreak, we saw a decline in commitments to slow coal growth, with growing demand in 2019 after years of slower growth,” said Lewis.

Eyes will be on China’s largest annual political meeting, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which will kick off on May 22 after being delayed due to the virus. Sessions will reveal key economic goals and budgets – and measures to revive the economy after the coronavirus will be in the center of the scene.

Observers will be impatient to see how much climate policy will be on the agenda.

Lewis said a green economic package would be “a huge opportunity to capitalize on the last decade of progress it has made in promoting innovation and the deployment of clean energy and ensuring the continuation of the low carbon transition “.

It is important to note that China is drafting its 14th five-year plan – a roadmap of the country’s goals and a key indicator of the amount of clean energy and sustainable development that will be at the center of the next five years. Because China is the world’s biggest polluter, the document’s climate policy is extremely important.

“The technologies that China should invest in are different from what they were ten years ago,” said Lewis. “Rather than investing in wind power technology, for example, more investment in battery technology would not only deploy more EVs (electric vehicles), but could also help balance a network that depends more and more renewable energy. “

China is the world leader in the deployment of electric vehicles. End of June 2019, 45% of electric cars and almost all electric buses were in China.
A China Briefing report said the country’s recovery strategy will likely push it towards a “sustainable, technology-driven economic model” with investments in “new infrastructure” such as large data centers, 5G and charging stations for consumers. new energy vehicles.

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) – postponed until next year due to the virus – China and India are expected to update their climate commitments, along with other countries. What they do during this recovery period will have ramifications for global climate action.

Lewis said coordination between China and the United States – the world’s second-largest polluter – should be a “crucial part of the US-China engagement in the future.”

Without that, she said: “We risk taking precious global action in the next decade, which is without doubt the decisive decade for climate change.”


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