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A Green Response to COVID-19

In a crisis like the one we are living through, we need to remind ourselves of platitudes, that crises can provide opportunities. Although this is hard to consider when faced with the great challenges that have arisen, history is ripe with examples of recovery from crises. How we respond now will determine what that recovery looks like, and what future we will be building for ourselves once the COVID-19 crisis is over.

With rescue plans being rolled out throughout the world, the COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented opportunity to create a new economy from the ashes of the one that is seemingly collapsing – which was already in crisis from the climate threat it had created. Governments around the world have two options before them, the first option is exemplified by both the USA and China – the first and second largest economies and biggest polluters that in the last ten years have led the pack for renewable energy generation – which have indicated that they will relax environmental standards to help the economy recover from the current crisis. The second option is the one that the European bloc has recently agreed on: a green response to COVID-19.

Fighting a crisis by exacerbating another, greater one is utterly short-sighted.  In recent years, the UK Government, alongside many other governments around the world, has woken up to the climate threat and declared a climate emergency setting up climate targets that, if missed, will push the planet’s limits to a tipping point from which we will not be able to recover. Around the globe, the public has also woken up to this terrible reality, and millions of people have taken to the streets to ask their governments for imminent and radical action to address climate change. The shift to a green economy necessary to avert a climate catastrophe requires significant investments, the kind of financial measures that will be required to revive the economy.

In the past, recovery plans from crises only cared for economic growth. Today’s governments are faced with the imperative of moving away from an environmentally unsustainable growth to a green one. As the former will certainly come at an unimaginable human cost. Indeed, prosperity cannot be forged only by GDP growth as this parameter does not take into account the reckoning to our reality where climate change looms over the lives of millions of people.

The UK government needs to make its choice. Amid COVID-19, Britain’s oil and gas sector has called for financial support from the Government to survive the oil price crash triggered by the coronavirus and a Saudi-Russian price war. Energy security is a persuasive argument to the ears of any government. However, there is no better contributor to energy security than making a country self-sufficient rather than exposed to the volatility of oil cartels. The renewable energy sector has proven that with the right investments, it can build up the capacity needed to meet Britain’s energy demand quickly. In 2019, renewable energy sources provided more electricity to UK homes and businesses than fossil fuels for the first time. While wind and solar deliver most of this, they are dependent on weather conditions. AD can fill this gap as it also acts as a form of energy storage to be used in seasonal periods of low electricity generation from weather contingent renewable sources. Being a ready to use carbon-reducing technology that generates energy by recycling organic wastes, AD is a reliable local energy source as there is not sign that wastes will run out in the foreseeable future. IEA has just published a dedicated report on biogas and biomethane generated through AD that finds that the world’s biogas and biomethane resources could cover 20% of global gas demand.

In other words, the technology to displace fossil fuels already exists. While a switch off button on fossil fuels is not feasible, it is time we become ambitious on enacting a just transition to a green and safe future. This pandemic represents a real opportunity to start from today. What the world may be missing to make this possible is leadership. Since the Trump administration has pulled out the US from the Paris Agreement, a powerful China has showed the world that even the world’s biggest polluter can see the economic (and human) reasons to create a green economy. Now with China going back on its steps, this is an opportunity for someone else to show leadership on the green transition and give the world renewed hope.

We at ADBA call the UK Government, being the host of the next UN climate summit, COP26, to take up this role and to make the only sensible choice: a green response to COVID-19.

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