International Energy Agency Launches Three-Year Sustainable Recovery Plan from COVID-19

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As the world grapples with an unprecedented health emergency sparked by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic shockwaves have impacted global economies, negatively affecting all sectors, including energy. This has lead to substantial unemployment and a reduction in investment. As an increasing number of people lose their jobs, the growing humanitarian crisis continues to deepen. 

In response to this shocking global scenario, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has formulated a three-year Sustainable Recovery Plan aimed at boosting worldwide economic growth, creating millions of jobs, and making global energy systems cleaner, more resilient, and substantially more sustainable in the long term. It is envisaged that it will be implemented from 2021 until the end of 2023.

The plan, presented in a 174-page IEA World Energy Outlook flagship report published in late June, provides exacting analysis and explicit advice on ways to tackle the economic, energy, and climate-based challenges the world faces right now. 

According to IEA executive director, Dr. Fatih Birol, the intention is not to try and force governments to do what they say, but rather to show them what and how they can accelerate the shift to a cleaner, more resilient energy future that will reboot economies and produce desperately needed employment opportunities. 

Ultimately, the IEA is showing how important it is to align recovery plans with long-term clean energy and sustainable development objectives, both national and global. Even though the prediction is that global carbon dioxide will fall by about 8% this year (2020) largely because of the declining economic activity, recovery is likely to bring with a marked increase in emissions – unless world governments put clean energy transitions at the core of their economic recovery plans. 

Special Report Details a Global Path for Sustainable Recovery from COVID-19 

IEA analysts have assessed the impact of COVID-19 and the resultant economic crisis on global demand for energy across the entire sector, including coal, electricity, oil, and gas, as well as the various renewal options. They have also quantified the effects that have been suffered in a variety of key areas, including an enormous plunge in the investment expected in global energy this year. 

The Sustainable Recovery Report takes all these issues into account and suggests the best path forward. 

  • It looks at the COVID-19 crisis and discusses it in the context of the energy sector.
  • It evaluates possible recovery measures and provides an overview of both emissions and employment possibilities in technology innovation and various sectors:
    • Buildings
    • Electricity
    • Fuels
    • Industry
    • Transport
    • Emerging low-carbon technologies
  • It proposes a sustainable recovery plan for the energy sector, including implications of the plan for economies, energy sectors, the environment, and energy resilience and security.

Ultimately, the recovery plan will help to put us on a course that is in line with internationally accepted climate goals. 

  • The plan will avoid the kind of rebound in emissions that occurred after the financial crisis in 2008/2009.
  • By 2023 – at the end of the three-year recovery plan time frame – greenhouse gas emissions could be 4.5 billion tonnes less. 
  • The plan will also result in a global decrease in air pollution emissions which will reduce health risks. 

In the meantime, mechanical engineers and other professionals can do everything in their power to minimize air pollution, for example by improving air quality in buildings. This can also prevent buildings from becoming high-risk areas for COVID-19 infection. 

Relationship Between COVID-19 and Energy

There is no doubt that the current coronavirus pandemic, whatever its initial cause, has resulted in a historic economic and energy crisis. Apart from wars, it has created the worst economic shock since the 1930s, impacting both investment and employment in all sectors, including energy. Estimates, which tragically might turn out to be far worse, are that the global economy will shrink by about 6% this year (2020) and predictions are that about 300 million jobs will have been lost during the second quarter of the year alone. About 8% of the 40 million jobs in the energy sector are affected or at risk. 

The forecast for investment in global energy is dismal, with a ballpark figure showing it will decrease by 20% this year. 

At the same time, the general global response by governments to the pandemic has been reliant on electricity to keep hospitals running. Areas without access to reliable, affordable energy face greater challenges and the risk of much greater economic damage.   

According to the report, more than US$9 trillion has already been provided globally to prevent the economic and financial crisis deepening. But there is an urgent need to implement recovery plans that will repair the economic damage that has been caused.  

On the bright side, the one energy source that will likely grow this year is electricity from renewable sources and the report analyses how this can happen. If tackled the right way, the result will be more secure, more affordable, and cleaner energy systems that are both sustainable and resilient. Additionally, the policies suggested have been designed to enable economic growth and provide a boost to employment opportunities.

Creating Cleaner Energy Systems

It is essential to develop energy systems that are sustainable and sufficiently resilient to withstand any future shocks on the scale of COVID-19. There are many ways that this can be done, including benchmarking compliance. But the required scale of a plan for recovery is going to take commitment and massive investment. 

Having assessed more than 30 global energy policies, the IEA’s recovery plan identifies and targets investment areas that will make a real difference:

  1. Acceleration of solar, wind and other low-carbon sources of electricity.
  2. Modernization and expansion of electricity grids.
  3. Increased development and use of efficient electric vehicles, high-speed rail, and other cleaner forms of transport. 
  4. Improvement in the energy efficiency of appliances, buildings, and equipment used by various industries including food, textiles, and manufacturing in general.
  5. Focus on the production of sustainable fuels. 
  6. Encourage innovation in relation to key technologies in energy including:
    1. Batteries
    2. Carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) 
    3. Hydrogen
    4. Small, modular nuclear reactors
  7. The need for huge investments by governments in the form of stimulus packages that will shape the infrastructure of the energy sector and keep it on a much more sustainable route. 

As a result of a substantial investment in cleaner energy systems globally, productivity of capital and workers would improve immeasurably. Additionally, by accelerating the transition to the goals of sustainable development, about 420 million more people in low-income countries would be able to access  clean-cooling solutions, and close to 270 million more would have access to electricity.

Creating Employment Opportunities

The IEA report maintains that their sustainable recovery plan could create or save abut 9 million jobs every year for the three years the plan is implemented. 

According to the IEA database, the energy industry employed about 40 million people world wide in 2019. When the report was finalized, about 3 million of these jobs had been lost or were in serious jeopardy and at risk of people lost as a result of the wide-ranging effects of COVID-19. Another 3 million jobs have been lost or are threatened in related fields including industry, buildings, and transportation (specifically related to vehicles). 

Most new jobs are predicted to be in the electricity sector, specifically renewables and electric grids, and in the building industry retrofitting buildings or working in jobs that help to improve their energy efficiency. 

Other primary areas where new jobs could be created or saved when the recovery plan is implemented include and/or relate to:

  • Improving energy efficiency in industry like food and textiles
  • Infrastructure for low-carbon transportation
  • More energy-efficient vehicles

The plan, which was discussed at the recent ever IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit (July 9) organized by the IEA, is now on the table. Now it’s up to governments, investors, and key leaders to tackle its challenges. 



Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of Nearby Engineers and New York Engineers, which is an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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