UN Leader Calls for Green Coronavirus Recovery on Earth Day
In a special message for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day Wednesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on the world to respond to the immediate crisis caused by the new coronavirus in a way that also solves the climate crisis.
Guterres first acknowledged the pandemic that has prompted Earth Day to go digital this year, calling it "the biggest test the world has faced since the Second World War."
"The impact of the coronavirus is both immediate and dreadful," he said. "But there is another, deep emergency — the planet's unfolding environmental crisis."
The #COVID19 crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call. We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to buil… https://t.co/yDxkhBMsP2— António Guterres (@António Guterres)1587502800.0
Guterres then called on countries to make sure their coronavirus recovery plans also paved the way for a more sustainable way of life.
"The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call," he said. "We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future."
To that end, he proposed six steps for a green recovery:
- Create new jobs and businesses by transitioning to a clean energy economy.
- Make sure taxpayer funds used to bail out businesses go to green jobs and sustainable projects.
- Make sure finance is directed towards creating a greener economy and more resilient communities.
- Use public funds to invest in environmentally-friendly sectors and projects while ending fossil fuel subsidies and making polluters pay for the damage they cause.
- Shape financial and public policy decisions around climate risks.
- Work together as an international community.
"On this Earth Day, please join me in demanding a healthy and resilient future for people and planet alike," Guterres concluded.
The remarks are in keeping with Guterres' commitment to climate action, which has been his No. 1 priority since assuming UN leadership in January 2017, as Reuters reported. However, POLITICO interpreted his remarks as a direct challenge to President Donald Trump and said they showed a new willingness on the UN leader's part to confront the U.S. president who last week suspended funding to the World Health Organization.
In particular, Guterres' call for an end to fossil fuel subsidies goes against Trump's promise Tuesday to bail out the oil industry after oil prices fell below zero for the first time Monday. The U.S. also gives out the second-most subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, after China, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Further, Guterres' call for a green recovery echoes the demands of some Democratic lawmakers, who had pushed unsuccessfully to condition an airline bailout on reduced emissions, as Grist reported.
But Guterres' statement also intervenes in a global fight over what the recovery from the coronavirus will look like. So far, major stimulus plans in the U.S., China and Europe have focused on mitigating immediate economic damage, Reuters pointed out. But there are signs that some countries at least could incorporate green measures into future efforts. Austrian environment minister Leonore Gewessler said last week that an airline bailout should be conditional on climate policies such as fewer short-haul flights and the use of cleaner jet fuel.
In the U.S., a group of activists and experts has put forward a call for a Green Stimulus that urges investments in green jobs and projects alongside efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as to limit global warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Emissions have declined as people stay home in response to lockdown orders, but experts say they will only stay down if environmental concerns are incorporated into recovery plans. Further, they point out that protecting the environment reduces the risk of future pandemics.
"While the pandemic will lead to a temporary dip in global greenhouse gas emissions, this must not distract from the urgent need for rapid fundamental changes in infrastructure, energy, land use and industrial systems to set us on a path to net zero emissions globally by 2050 at the latest," International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) Director Andrew Norton told BBC News. "Land use change and deforestation are primary global drivers of biodiversity destruction. They heighten the risk of further pandemics by bringing humans into contact with new threats such as the coronavirus. Every species lost is an irreversible event that decreases the resilience of natural and human systems on a permanent basis."
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By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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