Coronavirus: placing the fight against climate change at the heart of the economic recovery plan


FMM / RFI

The HCC, an independent body created by Emmanuel Macron to assess public policies to combat global warming, has prepared a special report on the Covid-19 crisis and its consequences. It makes 18 recommendations to draw lessons from the Covid-19 health crisis and ensure that the fight against climate change is at the heart of the economic recovery plan. The Parliament examines the draft amending budget, with 110 billion euros in aid, including 20 billion euros to recapitalize strategic enterprises in difficulty such as Air France. Florent Guignard interviewed midday Corinne Le Quéré, climatologist, president of the High Council for Climate (HCC) and professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

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An economic stimulus package for the climate

Dusseldorf Numerous business associations, companies and environmental protection associations wrote to the Chancellor on Monday. Your demand: The billion dollar stimulus packages according to Corona should above all take climate change into account.

“The necessary investment aids can set the course that will determine social and economic development over decades,” says the letter, which the Federal Association of Energy and Water Management (BDEW), the Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU) and others say hundred individual environmental organizations and companies like the energy company Engie have signed. “It is up to you to use the economic break from Covid-19 for a sustainable restart of our economy,” the signatories demand.

The world is currently fighting the consequences of the global corona pandemic with a lot of money. Only one industry often seems to be losing out: the energy industry. The EU Commission has already put numerous projects of the planned “Green Deal” on hold, while some politicians are already demanding that the planned CO2 tax be postponed in order to protect car and aviation companies after the crisis.

Numerous industries for which greater climate protection means disadvantages are protesting loudly against further climate policy requirements, whether nationally or at EU level. It is not just the affected energy industry that warns of such decisions.

The Agora think tank fears that the corona crisis could lead to “reluctance to make investments that are relevant to climate protection”. That is why the Berlin experts are proposing a € 100 billion program. Investments are to be made in wind power, electric cars, hydrogen and intelligent power grids.

Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), is now demanding that governments invest more in climate-friendly industries. A kind of “green reboot” as an opportunity after the crisis.

“Economic revival after the corona crisis and climate protection are not a contradiction in terms,” ​​says Manfred Schmitz, CEO of Engie Germany, the Handelsblatt. After all, the financial crisis had learned that it was important to “invest part of the funds more appropriately in promising areas”.

At that time, Germany promoted, for example, the scrapping premium for the scrapping of older vehicles to promote the auto industry. Anyone who sent their intact car to the scrap press received a grant of 2,500 euros from the state for the new purchase.

This measure was anything but beneficial for the climate. “It is precisely for this reason that we as an Engie group joined the Green Recovery Alliance,” explains Schmitz.

Lobbying battle for economic stimulus

The alliance of more than 180 CEOs, including from UnileverIkea Eon, Engie and Volvo, Politicians and organizations want to organize measures to revive the economy after the corona crisis based on the European Green Deal.

If the economy suddenly collapses, climate protection is no longer the most urgent problem. There is growing concern that nobody wants to spend any more money on the energy transition. A real lobbying battle ensues for the multi-billion dollar economic stimulus.

Handelsblatt Morning Briefing - Corona Spezial

While the car industry is hoping for a new scrapping premium, environmentalists fear that the turnaround in traffic will stall. The environmental association BUND therefore calls for public funds to be tied to ecological requirements.

“The smartest economic stimulus is the one that triggers investments in climate protection technologies. Because these are investments in the future, ”warns Kerstin Andreae, head of BDEW in an interview with the Handelsblatt. Suspending climate protection measures now is exactly the wrong way to go. “Crisis management and climate protection must not be played off against each other,” says Andreae.

The association presented a five-point catalog on Friday. Among other things, it calls for the cover for photovoltaic subsidies to be lifted, for the electricity price to be exempted from taxes and duties at short notice, and for distance rules for wind turbines to be waived on land. The energy transition should not be neglected because of the corona crisis, because “climate change does not stick to a lockdown,” emphasizes BDEW boss Andreae.

As good as the exit restrictions in many countries are doing the climate right now: Even during the financial crisis of 2008, there was a worldwide kink in the curve of greenhouse gas emissions. After that, however, it only rose again all the more steeply. After all, it was about jobs and the economy. Climate protection was of secondary importance.

More: Why Corona is good for the climate, but slows down the energy transition.

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North Pole soon without ice in summer

DThe Arctic Ocean is likely to be ice-free in some summers before 2050. This was the result of an international study coordinated by the University of Hamburg and published on Tuesday. The researchers fear “serious consequences for nature”. When exactly this will happen depends crucially on climate protection.

Current results from 40 different climate models were analyzed, which assume little climate protection and unchecked carbon dioxide emissions in the future. As expected, these simulations show an accelerated loss of sea ice in summer. However, according to the study, sea ice will disappear even if CO2 emissions are reduced quickly in the future.

The North Pole is currently covered by sea ice all year round. The ice surface shrinks every summer and grows again in winter. In the course of global warming, sea ice has rapidly lost surface area in recent decades. “The consequences for nature are problematic,” said Dirk Notz, professor at the Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability at the University of Hamburg: The ice sheet is a hunting ground and habitat for polar bears and seals.

At the same time, sea ice plays an important role in the climate system because its bright surface reflects sunlight and thus cools the Arctic, continued Notz. How many summers would be ice-free in the future largely depends on the level of future CO2 emissions. While ice-free years only occurred occasionally with strong climate protection, they would become the norm with higher emissions. Notz: “So people have in their hands how often the sea ice at the North Pole is completely lost in the Arctic summer.”

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Volker Mosbrugger: Climate change more dangerous than Corona

Mr. Mosbrugger, the economy is almost at a standstill. Is the global shutdown good for the environment?

Christoph Schäfer

It’s great for the environment. Air pollution and CO2 emissions have decreased significantly.

The Federal Environment Agency says that Germany can still achieve its climate goals because of the coal phase-out and the Corona crisis. That also sounds positive.

The corona crisis shows the dilemma we are in. Doing all the business, traveling and manufacturing make us feel good. But they are harmful to nature because we have not yet found sustainable use of it. The economy is not working at the moment, but nature is recovering.

But the current state cannot be a solution!

We will have to find a compromise. What we are now experiencing with Corona gives a foretaste of what to expect if we continue to treat our nature so badly.

How come? A virus is responsible for the corona crisis. That didn’t show up because of environmental damage.

The effect is similar. Environmental crises quickly become economic crises and then political crises. Imagine that there are not only 10,000 people on Europe’s borders as now, but 50 million environmental refugees whose homeland, for example due to rising sea levels, no longer provides a livelihood.

What do you think is more dangerous: the corona crisis or climate change?

No question at all: climate change is the greater threat. It has much more long-term consequences and is more difficult to deal with. And then there is the loss of biodiversity.

Does the global recession lead to a breather when species end?

The crisis is still too short to slow species extinction. In addition, the topics that drive species extinction are barely restricted. The Amazon is still being cleared, and agriculture continues to bring pesticides and fertilizers to the fields.

The conservation organization WWF warns of the greatest extinction of species since the end of the dinosaur era. Is this drastic warning justified?

It is justified if you look at how quickly species are currently disappearing. The speed corresponds to the mass extinction from the Cretaceous period. At that time, 75 percent of the species disappeared. Thank God, we have by no means reached this extent. But the extinction rate is scary, ten to a thousand times higher than normal.

How many species have disappeared?

There is a large study by the World Biodiversity Council in May 2019. According to this, one million of around eight million animal and plant species are currently threatened with extinction. Individual concrete studies come to significantly more dramatic results. In any case, it’s not just about whether a species disappears globally. It is also a question of whether we lack nature’s services on the spot. Then there is the species somewhere in the world. But where I needed it, it’s gone.

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Why the corona virus slows down the energy transition

Dusseldorf Stable factories, hardly any cars on the streets and only a few airplanes in the air. Corona ensures that greenhouse gas emissions decrease and millions of tons of CO2 are saved. The epidemic has a positive effect on the climate – at least in the short term.

The long-term consequences, however, are far from being environmentally friendly. Experts are already warning of savings on urgently needed investments in green projects. The coming year could therefore be the first since 1980 in which the expansion of solar energy is falling worldwide.

Wind, solar and bioenergy have been on the road to success in the past 20 years. From expensive niche electricity, they have become a mass energy source that is now even competing for coal, oil and gas.

Renewables now account for more than a quarter of electricity generation worldwide. For the past four years, more eco energy has been added than new fossil power plants. This is also due to the fact that renewable energies are becoming cheaper and cheaper. Newly built wind and solar systems are already cheaper in many parts of the world than a newly built coal or gas power plant. 2020 was supposed to be a record year for renewables.

But the corona crisis doesn’t stop at the energy transition either. The difficult situation of the global economy is likely to bring many infrastructure projects to a standstill, including the billion-dollar clean energy investment needed to avert a climate catastrophe by the end of the decade. Green projects are already being postponed or even completely abandoned.

For the global photovoltaic market, analysts from Bloomberg Energy Finance are therefore expecting a significantly reduced expansion for 2020. If an expansion of 121 to 152 gigawatts was previously assumed, it should now be 108 to a maximum of 143 gigawatts. This would be the coming year the first year since 1980 in which the expansion of solar energy is sinking instead of increasing.

The management consultancy Wood Mackenzie also expects a decline in global expansion in wind power – by up to five gigawatts. For companies that are already at their limit, however, a month-long delay in payment could be a problem.

And the sale of electric cars is also likely to stall. The low oil price should also postpone the competitiveness between electric vehicles and combustion engines by one to two years, analysts estimate Morgan Stanley.

Green investments on the brink

There is also a second, much bigger problem: “We see very low oil and gas prices and at the same time we have a falling CO2 price because the energy demand has dropped massively due to the corona measures,” says Feddersen. After just a few weeks, the price of CO2 certificates fell from around 24 to 16 euros. Feddersen believes that those who want to invest in renewable energies will now consider whether they would rather invest in oil and gas projects at low prices.

And governments could also postpone announced funding programs due to the economic situation. If the economy suddenly collapses, climate protection is no longer the most urgent problem – also because nobody wants to spend money on the energy transition.

For this reason, the Berlin think tank Agora is also afraid that “after the corona crisis, there may be a“ reluctance to make investments relevant to climate protection ”. There have long been proposals in German politics, such as postponing the increase in the ticket tax and the CO2 price. In December of last year, the German government decided in its climate protection law to actually introduce a national CO2 price of 25 euros per ton by 2021.

The climate negotiations are also stalling in Europe. However, the EU Commission maintains that it will stick to its timetable. It wants to continue to tighten its CO2 reduction targets by 2030 from the current 40 percent to 50 to 55 percent compared to 1990.

Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), suggests that subsidies for fossil fuels be abolished in the process. A kind of “green reboot” as an opportunity after the crisis. Politicians must now take countermeasures and drive the expansion of renewables, energy experts Feddersen also warned.

However, a second major oil price crash within just six years also illustrates the high volatility of the fossil fuel markets and the value that stable, renewable solutions can offer. The stability of regenerative energies could therefore be their greatest advantage in the future.

Given the increasing shift away from fossil fuels in global society, the increasing competitiveness of clean energy and the massive volatility of the oil market, oil companies and governments could at least be persuaded to rethink in the long term.

More: Electricity consumption drops due to corona crisis – with drastic consequences for major customers.

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Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is at its highest point

Brisbane, Australia. An aerial assessment of the Great Barrier Reef revealed that coral bleaching extends across eastern Australia for the third time in five years.

Bleaching has impacted all three regions of the world’s largest coral system and is more extensive than at any other point in its history, scientists from James Cook University in the state of Queensland reported Tuesday.

Aerial assessments of 1,036 reefs in the past two weeks revealed bleached coral in the northern, central and southern areas, James Cook University professor Terry Hughes said.

“As the summers get hotter, we no longer need an El Niño event to trigger massive bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef scale,” Hughes said. “Of the five events we have recorded so far, only those in 1998 and 2016 occurred during El Niño conditions.”

El Niño is a weather pattern that begins with bands of warm ocean water in the central and central-eastern Pacific around the equator and affects the climate of the entire world.

The Great Barrier Reef is made up of 2,900 different reefs and 900 islands. You are unable to recover due to insufficient time between bleaching.

“We have already seen the first example of consecutive bleaching, in the summers of 2016 and 2017,” Hughes said, adding that the number of unaffected reefs is decreasing and the phenomenon is increasing.

He commented that underwater studies will be carried out throughout the year to assess the severity of the damage.

In early March, David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said the reef was facing a critical period of heat stress in the coming weeks after the most extensive coral bleaching it has ever recorded. area.

The authority, the government agency that manages coral reef expansion in Northeast Australia, said ocean temperatures over the next month would be critical in determining how coral recovers from heat bleaching.

“The forecasts … indicate that we can expect current levels of heat stress for at least the next two weeks, and perhaps up to three to four weeks,” Wachenfeld said in his weekly report on the health of the reef.

“So this is a crucial time for the reef and it will be the weather conditions of the next two to four weeks that will determine the end result,” he said.

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