UN chief asks some countries to embrace clean energy

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Antonio Guterres

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.

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