LONDON (Reuters) - Gigantic stimulus packages to prop up the world economy during the coronavirus crisis should be designed to tackle climate change, according to a senior adviser from Britain which is hosting the next U.N. summit on global warming.
With governments pouring money into the economy at levels unseen since World War Two, many politicians, economists and campaigners are calling for the measures to accelerate a lasting shift away from polluting coal, oil and gas.
The epidemic, which has killed more than 16,500 people worldwide and infected nearly 380,000, has given a temporary respite to the planet thanks to the shutdown of large swathes of the global economy.
“It almost certainly looks as if (global) CO2 emissions will go down this year but I wouldn’t take any false security from that,” Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, an independent body advising the British government on how to meet its climate goals, told Reuters.
“The question is what happens after. We locked in higher global CO2 emissions after the last global financial crisis.”
The coronavirus has taken global attention away from environmental issues in what had been seen as a crucial year for implementing an agreement brokered in Paris in 2015 to try to avert catastrophic climate change and parallel international talks to try to save threatened species from extinction.
Stark said he would not be surprised if organisers were forced to postpone the next U.N. climate summit, due to be held in the Scottish city Glasgow in November, as a result of the epidemic.
Whenever it is held, the emphasis of the annual two-week negotiations - known as a COP - may shift towards exploring how post-virus stimulus packages could be used to shift away from fossil fuels towards a low-carbon future, he added.
“The COP itself will have to change and the themes of the COP will need to be more driven by a green recovery,” he said.
With governments injecting billions of dollars, campaigners hope the wave of state interventions will ultimately pivot towards boosting renewable energy, home insulation, research into clean technologies and other decarbonisation strategies.
“Globally, the question will be ... ‘Do we lock in the use of fossil fuels in our infrastructure choices ... or do we instead look to a green stimulus?,’” Stark said.
Stark’s committee, which has sharply criticised the British government’s progress on emissions, is due to publish a report on how each sector of the economy can transition to net zero carbon by 2050 later this year.
Writing by Matthew Green; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne