The health, humanitarian, social and economic crises set off by the COVID-19 pandemic have been unprecedented, with wide-ranging impacts on societies around the world. As governments safeguard the health of their people and tackle the challenge of economic recovery, the IRENA Coalition for Action urges governments to leverage the progress achieved with renewable energy and not lose sight of the efforts needed to reach global climate and sustainability objectives.
Renewable energy solutions provide clean, reliable, easy to mobilise and cost-effective energy for essential services, including healthcare, water and food supply. This makes them crucial in the immediate response to COVID-19. Furthermore, renewable energy must play a key role in economic recovery, ensuring sustainability and energy security, creating jobs and strengthening resilience to protect people’s health and welfare. No other industry can match such impact while simultaneously reducing global climate emissions.
In developing immediate policy responses to the COVID-19 emergency, the IRENA Coalition for Action calls on governments to:
- Revisit deadlines for renewable energy projects with contractual obligations for near-term delivery. To off-set the pandemic’s impact on the labour force and the global supply chain for renewables, delayed projects should be allowed to resume under the same terms and frameworks.
- Designate the renewable energy industry and related infrastructure as a critical and essential sector. Industrial activity needs to continue along the entire supply chain to ensure essential energy services remain fully operational. Cross-border trade must be maintained for renewable energy-related goods, and renewable energy employees should be recognised as part of the essential workforce during the crisis.
- Affirm and extend policies promoting renewable energy solutions, both centralised and decentralised. To provide long-term policy certainty in times of crisis, governments must consider affirming existing and planned support schemes, as well as continuing to implement grid development, market design and other enabling policies for renewables. Permitting and siting approvals should be fast-tracked so that the renewable energy industry can plan ahead and protect its workforce.
As governments consider stimulus packages required for rapid and sustained economic recovery, the IRENA Coalition for Action Coalition calls on governments to:
- Prioritise renewable energy in any stimulus measures and commit to phasing out support for fossil fuels. Stimulus packages for any sector should include conditions to reduce emissions and accelerate the transition to a clean, low-carbon economy. Within the energy sector, fossil-fuel subsidies must be steered towards investments in low-carbon infrastructure, as well as to research and innovation to support higher shares of renewables, particularly in end uses such as transport and heating and cooling. With higher reliance on renewables, countries and communities can benefit from more stable energy prices and increase their energy independence, along with reducing emissions and fulfilling climate objectives.
- Provide public financial support to safeguard the industry and mobilise private investment in renewables. The crisis has had disruptive effects on private finance for renewable energy deployment. To align short-term relief measures with long-term economic and sustainability goals, governments should prioritise financial incentives for the renewable energy sector. By establishing a “no harm” principle for lending recipients, governments and financial institutions could steer key energy investments increasingly towards renewables. Furthermore, governments can also provide additional lines of credit and credit guarantees, as well as special relief funds for fragile industries, such as small and medium-sized enterprises.
- Enhance the role of renewable energy in industrial policies. Governments have a historic opportunity to examine domestic industrial capabilities and supply chains, making these fit for the global shift to a clean, low-carbon economy. Along with renewable energy itself, governments can support other industries with an enabling role, such as green hydrogen, storage and digital solutions. Existing economic activities and local capabilities must be fully leveraged to maximise the socio-economic benefits of renewables, including GDP growth, job creation and improved human health.
- Revise labour and education policies to foster a just transition and help workers make the shift into renewable energy jobs. The transformation of the energy system brings vast opportunities to develop local value chains. Governments must invest in programmes to equip their societies with the knowledge and skills needed for the clean, low-carbon economy. The renewable energy sector can provide valuable support through workforce training and retraining programmes.
- Strengthen international co-operation and action to accelerate renewable energy deployment in line with global climate and sustainability objectives. COVID-19 has impacted the whole world and risks disproportionately affecting developing countries in the months and years ahead. Greater collaboration is needed between governments and amongst the international community to devise clear action plans, supported by appropriate funding. Long-term stimulus plans could pool funding from public and private sources in order to de-risk projects and ensure access to finance for centralised and decentralised renewable energy.
The actions outlined above would support sustainable economic recovery, make societies more resilient, and help fulfil objectives of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In responding to the crisis, governments are currently in a position to recognise the benefits of renewables, continue building broad public support for the transformative decarbonisation of societies, and pave the way for a clean, low-carbon economy.
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