Covid-19 slows global emissions but world still long way from clean energy – IEA

ALTHOUGH the Covid-19 pandemic – with its disruption and uncertainty – has led to a drop in global emissions, the world still has to come up with well-designed energy policies for a resilient energy system that can meet climate goals, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In its World Energy Outlook 2020, published on Tuesday, the IEA said global emissions were set to bounce back more slowly than after the financial crisis of 2008-2009, but the world was still a long way from a sustainable recovery.

‘Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline,’ said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.

‘The economic downturn has temporarily suppressed emissions, but low economic growth is not a low-emissions strategy – it is a strategy that would only serve to further impoverish the world’s most vulnerable populations.

‘Only faster structural changes to the way we produce and consume energy can break the emissions trend for good.

‘Governments have the capacity and the responsibility to take decisive actions to accelerate clean energy transitions and put the world on a path to reaching our climate goals, including net-zero emissions,’ Birol added.

The WEO focuses on the pivotal period of the next 10 years, exploring different pathways out of the crisis.

It shows that the pandemic’s impact will lead to a drop of five per cent in global energy demand in 2020; while energy-related CO2 emissions fall by seven percent and energy investment by 18 per cent.

The report noted: ‘A step-change in clean energy investment offers a way to boost economic growth, create jobs and reduce emissions.

‘The electricity sector will play a key role in supporting economic recovery, and an increasingly important long-term role in providing the energy that the world needs.

‘Over time it looks set to evolve into a system with lower CO2 emissions, a stronger infrastructure base and enhanced flexibility,’ the WEO added.

It said by 2030 the growth in the demand for electricity in Africa would be ‘most pronounced’.

The Outlook reported that by then Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Ethiopia and Rwanda would be among a handful of countries that were ‘on track to achieve universal access to electricity’.

However, the WEO projection is that in 10 years’ time 660 million people would still lack access to electricity – including 33 per cent of the population in Africa.

‘The pandemic has reversed several years of decline in the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to electricity,’ the Outlook noted.

‘And a rise in poverty levels may have made basic electricity services unaffordable for more than 100 million people worldwide who had electricity connections.’

But last month, the IEA said in a report that after years of slow progress, technologies to capture carbon emissions and store or reuse them were gaining momentum, a trend that would need to accelerate significantly for the world to achieve its energy and climate goals.

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is the only group of technologies that contributes both to reducing emissions in key sectors directly and to removing CO2 from the atmosphere to balance the emissions that are the hardest to prevent – a crucial part of reaching the net-zero emissions goals that a growing number of governments and companies have set for themselves.

The technology is expected to be useful to African countries over the next 20 years as they undergo the largest process of urbanisation in the world.

The last Africa Energy Outlook by the IEA said that drawing on rich natural resources and advances in technology, the continent could by 2040 meet the energy demands of an economy four times larger than today’s with only 50 per cent more energy.

‘Africa has a unique opportunity to pursue a much less carbon-intensive development path than many other parts of the world,’ said Birol.

‘Africa holds the key for global energy transitions, as it is the continent with the most important ingredients for producing critical technologies,’ he added.

‘For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo accounts for two-thirds of global production of cobalt, a vital element in batteries, and South Africa produces 70 per cent of the world’s platinum, which is used in hydrogen fuel cells.

‘As energy transitions accelerate, so will demand for those minerals,’ he added.

The construction of key infrastructure to support this demand for resources – both into and out of Africa – will be vital to continuing Africa’s development.

The Tema LNG Terminal, for instance, positions Ghana as a regional hub for gas, allowing other nations to benefit from connectivity to the international market while offering a cost-effective and reliable source of energy to help develop the economies of Ghana and its neighbours.

‘Africa’s infrastructure needs currently present a challenge to its development, but also offer a major opportunity for long-term growth,’ an energy expert in London told Africa Briefing.

‘Demand is increasing for raw minerals both in Africa and worldwide.

‘With the right investments and infrastructure plan, and the developments of projects like the Tema LNG Terminal, African countries can use modern technologies and expertise to deliver long-lasting, sustainable benefits to their societies.

‘This can then spur development in other areas through increased income, stability of energy supply and increased regional and international trade,’ the energy expert added.



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