COVID relief could help mitigate climate change, reboot economy

Countries are projected to collectively invest an estimated $1.1 trillion per year over the next five years into low-carbon energy strategies. (photo courtesy of Adobe Stock)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Congress has provided billions of dollars for renewable energy and green technologies as part of the latest $900 billion coronavirus relief package. Some scientists say relief funding could put the U.S. more on track with countries that have joined the Paris Agreement. My expertise in this subject is due to me being the principal technical leader at Electric Power Research Institute and research fellow at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

The $900 billion coronavirus relief package Congress passed this week contains a host of measures aimed at curbing the effects of climate change. It includes money for renewable energy development and energy efficiency, reducing hydrofluorocarbons that contribute to greenhouse gases, and reauthorizing a federal program to shrink diesel-engine emissions. As  a University of Tennessee Knoxville researcher, I can testify that the bill is a step toward preventing the planet from warming another three degrees Celsius, a level experts say would spur disastrous effects.

There’s a lot of money pouring into the system right now from the public side, thinking about how to get people back to work. So the question is, why not use that funding to help spur decarbonization efforts and moving toward a cleaner, green society?

My research shows countries will need to invest about $1.4 trillion per year for the next five years to curb global warming. This amount, if used around the globe for renewable energy, advanced power grids, carbon capture and storage, biofuels and more would start to bend the warming curve and put the world on a path to drastically cutting emissions by 2050.

Funding for effective green strategies could put the U.S. on a closer track with countries that have joined the Paris climate agreement even though President Donald Trump withdrew U.S. participation in 2017.

What the agreement did was it set a path for countries to choose goals and choose their targets, choose their paths, to get to those decarbonization levels on their own.

And whether the federal government takes action or not, the momentum to tackle climate change is building among private industries.

A lot of companies and investors are who saying, ‘No, we’re going this way. Whatever the government is doing at the federal level, a lot of us are multinational companies, we know that things are moving in this direction.’

The relief package includes around $1.7 billion to help low-income families install home renewable energy sources, $2.6 billion for the Energy Department’s sustainable transportation program, and $4.6 billion for solar, wind and other green-energy technology development.

(David L. McCollum wrote this article for The Conversation).