By Laura Millan Lombrana
The coronavirus pandemic that’s shattered the world as we know it, bringing unfathomable pain and chaos, still has a silver lining. It’s tiny compared with the scale of human tragedy, but at this point, and as my colleague Akshat Rathi told me recently, “I’ll take all the small wins.”
This week’s win is 1%. That’s how much renewable energy demand is expected to increase this year. It might seem miniscule, but not when compared with the overall 6% decline in energy demand forecast by the International Energy Agency. That, in turn, will lead to the biggest-ever drop in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Fossil fuels will bear the brunt of the slump, with oil demand set to plummet by 9 million barrels a day, or about 9%. Demand for coal will fall about 8%, another sign that the pandemic is hastening the demise of the dirtiest fossil fuel.
The world around us is changing so quickly that the concept of stranded assets–once a niche idea–has gone mainstream. Just look at fossil fuel infrastructure: This week, Morgan Stanley joined Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and others in ruling out any financing for Arctic oil drilling.
Demand for renewable energy will rise this year as economies grapple with the worst crisis in decades. This makes sense at a time when solar and wind are the cheapest sources of power in most of the world. Even Google will tailor computing demand in its data centers to the availability of renewable energy on the grid.
With leaders from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva calling for a climate-focused response to this Covid-19 crisis, you could be forgiven for thinking that better days are coming for the climate fight.
But new infrastructure doesn’t always equal zero-emissions. Just look at China’s recovery plan, which includes building more data centers. Their electricity consumption is so huge that by 2023, they’ll emit more carbon dioxide than countries such as Belgium or the Philippines.
Climate diplomacy, now relegated to virtual meetings, has become even more fraught, making it less certain that some 200 nations will reach a global agreement that significantly slows climate change.
And those 2.6 billion tons of CO2 emissions that won’t be emitted during the global virus shutdown? They’re dwarfed by the 30.7 billion tons that will be emitted this year. The pandemic-induced blip is far from enough to hold off global warming, or the stock of greenhouse gases that has built up in the atmosphere over the past few decades.
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