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Only 2% of the pandemic recovery spending is going to clean energy

It needs to be a green recovery, but it isn’t nearly green enough yet.

Only 2% of the pandemic recovery spending is going to clean energy
[Image: DeMango/iStock]

The huge amount of money poured into the recovery from the pandemic—around $16 trillion, by the latest count—could have helped launch the world on a path to cut emissions quickly enough to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. But only around 2% of the spending is going to clean energy so far, according to a new sustainable recovery tracker from the International Energy Agency that looks at more than 800 plans from more than 50 countries.

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“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,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in a statement. “Despite increased climate ambitions, the amount of economic recovery funds being spent on clean energy is just a small sliver of the total.”

A range of new funding is planned, from subsidies for electric cars and chargers in Japan to incentives for off-grid solar installations in Nigeria; most of the money is being channeled through existing programs. Advanced economies have committed more funding than developing countries, which focused their recovery plans more on emergency relief. But in total, the plans aren’t sufficient.

Early in the pandemic, the IEA released a report that suggested that governments should mobilize $1 trillion in recovery spending for clean energy programs over the next few years, which could create millions of jobs, boost the economy, improve air pollution and health, and help tackle climate goals. But under current plans, by 2023, public and private spending on clean energy is expected to reach only around $350 billion. If all of the plans that have been announced move forward, emissions will reach record levels in 2023—3.5 billion tons more than would have happened under the IEA’s recommended plan. And then they’d keep growing. But it’s still possible to change course. Birol says that the path to net-zero emissions by 2050 “is narrow but still achievable – if we act now.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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