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How green is the post-COVID recovery shaping up to be?

Radio interview with Carolyn Beeler of The World, 22 July 2021.

"Build back better." That was Joe Biden's presidential campaign slogan. But just 2% of the $16 trillion spent on COVID-19 recovery worldwide has been slated for clean energy measures. What’s more, greenhouse gas emissions are heading for a new record high. The World’s Carolyn Beeler takes stock of just how "green" the global recovery has been so far.

Here’s a story from The World.

Last spring, as the world was still in the grip of the first wave of Covid, a now-familiar refrain emerged among world leaders.

“Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic is a chance to set the world on a cleaner, greener, more sustainable path.”

“This is a huge opportunity to do transformational changes.”

“We can build back better by building back greener.”

Today on The Big Fix we look at whether building back greener is happening.

Change is coming. “

“Can we turn this around?”

“We have no other option.”

“What we do now will profoundly affect the next few thousand years.”

So, is recovery finding moving the planet away from fossil fuels? Here’s The World’s environment correspondent, Carolyn Beeler.

$1 trillion every year, for the next three years. That’s how much it would cost to build back better, according to the International Energy Agency. That would pay for things like solar panels, electrical charging stations, and more energy-efficient buildings. This week the agency released an analysis of how 50 countries are doing so far.

“There’s a bit of good news and a bit of bad news.”.

That’s Daniel Wetzel, energy analyst with the International Energy Agency.

“Right now the good news is that the investments mobilised by governments spending today, we expect to boost energy investment by 30%.”

And the bad news?

“That needs to be three times that level in order to hit this $1 trillion target.”

A separate analysis by the Energy Policy Tracker finds that the world’s 20 richest countries have spent more public money on fossil fuels than on renewable energy in the past year and a half.

“I think that countries are squandering this opportunity for green recovery."

Joel Jaeger, with the World Resources Institute, has been following recovery money since the early days of the pandemic. He points out that back then, countries were throwing money at whatever could help stop the economic freefall and help people survive. Now, some countries can be more strategic.

“The big question is, are governments going to supplement that clean energy stimulus in the next three years, with enough other clean energy investments to get us on track for the goals of the Paris Agreement?”

That’s a question in the U.S. Jaeger says as much as $1 trillion of climate spending proposed in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan has been stripped out of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation being debated in Washington. Much of it will be back on the table as part of the democrat’s budget resolution this fall. Globally most of the green recovery spending is happening in richer nations.


Malango Mughogho is the Managing Director of ZeniZeni Sustainable Finance in South Africa.

“Some countries are still addressing the pandemic now, currently, so that recovery process hasn’t even begun. They’re fighting fires, essentially, with the pandemic at the moment.”

To make a green recovery possible, Mughogho says developing countries first need vaccines. Then they need to borrow money and get already-promised funds from richer countries to invest in building back better.

“Because without it, it just seems very bleak. I feel very bleak. If we don’t take this opportunity now I think, to show solidarity from an international finance perspective, I think it would be a really sad indictment on humanity.”


U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is also calling for solidarity. At a speech in London this week, he argued the globe should pull together now just like it did after World War II.

“And that is precisely what we must do now. Treat climate crisis as the crisis it has become and mount a response that is comparable to wartime mobilisation. A massive opportunity to rebuild our economies after Covid-19. To build better. How many times have you heard that phrase after this pandemic?”

Kerry says scaling up the development of clean energy technology is the biggest step for this decade, and he urged countries to come to the table with more ambitious plans at the next UN climate summit in Glasgow this November.

“We can, in a little more than 100 days, save the next 100 years.”

As it is, after more than a year of calls to build back better, the world is still predicted to hit record highs of carbon dioxide emissions by 2023.

For The World, I’m Carolyn Beeler.

Image credit: Yale Sustainability / Yale University


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