IEA Plan Looks to Biofuels to Help Rebuild Post-COVID World

August 21, 2020

As dire as the COVID-19 pandemic appears today, there are many who are looking beyond the crisis, exploring ways not only to recover from this tragedy, but to rebuild our capabilities to an even higher level beyond what they were before the outbreak.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Special Report on Sustainable Recovery offers world governments what the organization says is a plan that will boost economic growth, create millions of jobs and put emissions into decline – all objectives that comply with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The IEA plan, which follows an analysis carried out in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, focuses on a series of actions that can be taken over the next three years to revitalize economies and boost employment, all while making energy systems cleaner and more resilient. By integrating energy policies into government responses to the economic shock caused by the Covid-19 crisis, the plan would also accelerate the deployment of modern, reliable and clean energy technologies and infrastructure.

The plan’s emphasis on renewable energy – and particularly biofuels – reflects one of the three pillars of climate smart agriculture: avoiding or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. This critical objective is well addressed by the significantly lower carbon footprint (up to 47 percent) of alternative fuels compared to that of petroleum-based options like gasoline and diesel.

The agency says the global economy is set to shrink by 6 percent in 2020 and some 3 million energy sector jobs have been lost globally due to the COVID-19 crisis. The plan could save or create roughly 9 million jobs per year across the entire economy. The IEA also says that by using its recovery roadmap and relying on cleaner fuels and other energy sources, global economic growth could get a boost on average of 1.1 percent per year.

Just as importantly, the IEA says its recovery scenario could reduce the world’s annual energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by a total of 4.5 billion metric tons by the end of the three-year plan. The strategy and its reliance on cleaner fuels and other sources of power would drive a five-percent reduction in air pollution emissions.

The initiative does not come without costs. The IEA says that achieving the results laid out by the plan would require global investment of about $1 trillion annually through 2023. But the agency notes that sum represents less than a tenth of one percent of today’s global GDP and includes both public spending and private finance that would be mobilized by government policies.

Based on detailed assessments of more than 30 specific energy policy measures, the Sustainable Recovery Plan considers cost-effective approaches, the circumstances of individual countries, existing pipelines of energy projects, and current market conditions. It spans six key sectors – fuels, electricity, transport, industry, buildings and emerging low-carbon technologies.

As the situation now stands, the IEA warns that global energy investment is set for an unprecedented plunge of 20 percent this year, raising serious concerns for energy security and clean energy transitions. The agency’s plan, officials say, would make the global energy sector more resilient and allow countries to be better prepared for future crises.

The Sustainable Recovery Plan – and the renewable fuels that number among its remedies – is designed to avoid the kind of sharp rebound in carbon emissions that accompanied the economic recovery from the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Instead, the plan puts those emissions into structural decline.

The IEA says there is much about today’s situation that make it a unique opportunity for government action. Global carbon emissions are set for a record decline this year. Given that the drop stems from economic trauma, it is nothing to celebrate. But it still provides a base from which emissions could be addressed and reduced.

Solutions from the Land encourages stakeholders to bring the IEA plan to the attention of policy makers. The nation should take this opportunity to address the needs of the rural communities that drive so much of the production of cleaner energy sources, including biofuels. This three-year roadmap offers not only an environmental payoff, but an economic one as well.

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