UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday asked India and other countries around the world to embrace clean energy in order to recover better from COVID-19.
He made the appeal at the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture, an annual event to commemorate Darbari Seth, an Indian pioneer for renewable energy.
India has all the ingredients for exerting the leadership at home and abroad envisioned by Darbari Seth, said Guterres.
The drivers are poverty alleviation and universal energy access — two of India’s top priorities. Scaling up clean energy, particularly solar, is the recipe for solving both, he said.
Investments in renewable energy, clean transport and energy efficiency during the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic could extend electricity access to 270 million people worldwide — a third of the people that currently lack it. These same investments could help create 9 million jobs annually over the next three years, he said in a recorded video message.
Investments in renewable energy generate three times more jobs than investments in polluting fossil fuels. With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to push many people back into poverty, such job creation is an opportunity that cannot be missed.
“Clean energy and closing the energy access gap are good business. They are the ticket to growth and prosperity,” said Guterres.
Yet, subsidies for fossil fuels are still some seven times more than subsidies for clean energy in India. Continued support for fossil fuels in so many places around the world is deeply troubling, he said. “Investing in fossil fuels means more deaths and illness and rising health care costs. It is, simply put, a human disaster and bad economics.”
Not least, because the cost of renewables has fallen so much that it is already cheaper to build new renewable energy capacity than to continue operating 39 percent of the world’s existing coal capacity.
This share of uncompetitive coal plants will rapidly increase to 60 percent in 2022. In India, 50 percent of coal will be uncompetitive in 2022, reaching 85 percent by 2025.
“The coal business is going up in smoke,” he said
The advantages of India’s renewable energy resources are plain to see. They are low-cost, protected from volatile commodities markets, and offer three times the job potential of fossil fuel power plants. And they can improve air quality at a time when cities are literally choking, said Guterres.
With its vast size and ecological diversity, India is already experiencing many of the worst impacts of climate change. Floods and droughts are getting more frequent and severe, causing major damage to food systems, local economies and human health. If global warming continues unchecked, India will face the brunt of the climate crisis, he warned.
Like all other countries, India is at a crossroads.
The country can become a true global superpower in the fight against climate change if it speeds up its shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, he said. “I call on Indian leaders to take the decisions, make the investments and adopt the policies necessary to continue this vital journey. Today is the time for bold leadership on clean energy and climate action. I call on India to be at the helm of the ambitious leadership we need,” he said.
Both the pandemic and the climate crisis have raised fundamental questions about how to ensure the health and well-being of the world’s people and about how nations must cooperate to advance the common good, he said. “Young people, in particular, are looking to all of us to uphold intergenerational solidarity and take bold steps toward sustainability, equality and social justice. At this pivotal moment, as the United Nations marks its 75th anniversary, India has a crucial role to play.”
The challenge for the world is urgent and clear. To keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, global emissions need to be halved by 2030 and the world will need to be carbon neutral before 2050. These goals are still achievable. But, today, the world is at a crucial juncture, said Guterres.
As governments mobilize trillions of dollars to recover from COVID-19, their decisions will have climate consequences for decades. These choices can either propel climate action forward, or set the world back years, he said.
“This is why I have urged governments to take six climate-positive actions to recover better from the pandemic: invest in green jobs; do not bail out polluting industries; end fossil fuel subsidies; take climate risks into account in all financial and policy decisions; work together; most important, leave no one behind.”
The lecture was organized by the Energy and Resources Institute. Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also spoke at the virtual event.